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Your View | Swansea Sparks

Lagoon wall (tidal lagoon power)crop

Mike Unsworth must be congratulated for his intention to build a tidal lagoon power project in Swansea Bay once the expected contract for difference is agreed (New Civil Engineer, February).

It is sad we could have led the world nearly 100 years ago as ICE member AMA Struben argued the case in his excellent little book in 1921. His arguments were sound and well-illustrated with facts and figures so loved by engineers.

Nevertheless, we must greatly welcome that at long, long, last a tidal lagoon for generating electricity is to be constructed.

  • Richard D’Ath (F retd)

The article on the Swansea Bay barrage scheme (sic) is interesting but totally misleading. The quoted generating capacity of 320MW should be converted to the actual likely electrical output available on a daily basis. The article completely fails to point out the relative efficiency of the turbines is in the region of 18%. Thus, the quoted capacity of 320MW is equivalent to an average effective output throughout the day of around 60MW.

By adopting alternative renewable energy, such as offshore wind, this level of electrical output could be achieved with only 15 of the largest available 8MW turbines operating at about 50% efficiency. There is absolutely no way that the Swansea Lagoon scheme can support the total power requirement of 155,000 homes (11% of Wales’ needs), as suggested.

It is time for British professionals in this industry to speak out against such vanity projects, and I hope that political leaders such as Greg Clark and Nick Timothy are able to see through the simple arithmetic of such schemes. The UK economy simply cannot afford to blow away such vast sums of money on such projects.

  • Peter Broughton (F)

It is interesting to consider that the UK firms cited are calling for go-ahead, compared to the Hyperloop company, which is just going ahead.

  • Frederick Levy posted online on article headed “Civils firms urge tidal lagoon go-ahead”

Do we need all of these megaprojects?

I was perturbed to read both the Editorial and Lighthouse in December’s New Civil Engineer. The editor is telling us “we must support Heathrow” and those who do not believe in this third runway project are “cynics”. Well, my engineering background has taught me to question and be rational, considering all aspects of schemes including the environmental and human aspects.

In a similar vein Lighthouse talks about Heathrow, Hinkley and High Speed 2, and tells us to “come together to support a shared set of goals” and “get behind [Sir John] Armitt and support his work”.

The Heathrow area is already overheated; the M25 has five, often stationary, lanes of traffic in each direction; other roads are frequently severely congested; the area is already over the air pollution thresholds, killing and adversely affecting the health of many; and noise pollution is adversely affecting thousands of residents. The scheme is being pushed by big business but opposed by most of the local, democratically elected, representatives. And, on a practical operating point, how can this world class airport operate with night flying restrictions, or will those be overturned too?

Regarding Hinkley Point, do we want to tie in doubled electricity costs with foreign-owned companies, and also have design and financial control by a country which has been far from an ally? Then there is the issue of nuclear waste that we will be leaving as an inheritance to future generations, not to mention the multibillion pound decommissioning programme in a few decades.

There was a chance to have an exemplar energy scheme with wind, solar and tidal power on the same site, at probably a fraction of the cost and with none of the controlling restraints.

I feel alienated by the positions of New Civil Engineer and the ICE on these subjects, so will not be renewing my membership. My subscriptions may be better spent supporting more environmentally sound organisations.

  • John Lee (M)

Lessons from 1960s Euston Arch Tragedy

Much has been written of the “disgrace” surrounding High Speed 2 (HS2) and Euston station.

HS2 Ltd chairman Sir David Higgins (New Civil Engineer, February) has warned MPs of “disgrace” if the overall station was to be left unimproved as part of HS2.

May we remind readers of the actual disgrace that was the demolition in 1961/62 of the Euston Arch – the Doric Arch.

Doric arch demol

Doric arch demol

Icon demolished by penny pinching government

In the late 1930s Percy Thomas proposed a Grand Central Station style redevelopment, and that might have been some compensation for the proposed removal of the arch. The Second World War meant this visionary scheme was not realised.

In the early 1960s the argument for reconstruction of the station was based on electrification and life-expired station infrastructure.

Many attempts were made to save the arch, not least by Sir John Betjeman and colleagues in the Victorian Society. But then prime minister Harold Macmillan had no appetite to spend precious post-war funds on moving the arch.

As young children at that time, my brother and I did not understand the complexity and contemporary pressures that the decision-makers were dealing with. Yet during a visit to the demolition site early in 1962, aged 11 and 9 years respectively, we saw the sadness expressed by our father and grandfather and that has stayed with us.

Fast-forward to today, and we have both worked as civil engineers, in differing industry sectors.

From time to time, what we saw back then has reminded us of the consequences and duration of the impacts of our engineering work.

We would not say that MacMillan was wrong to sanction the demolition. 

However, we do share Higgins’ view that Euston does now deserve something better. And if not now, when?

  • Robert Treadgold (F)
  • Peter Treadgold (F)

Challenges to come for the young

David Crook’s assertion (New Civil Engineer, February) that the real elephant in the room is population growth is only too true. The United Nations calculates that there are now more than 7bn living humans on Earth today – 6.5% of all the humans ever born – and that we are likely to number over 11bn by 2100.

The real challenge is not only in infrastructure renewal and resilience but in providing all the new infrastructure to support this increase in population as well as solving the problem of global warming – quite a legacy to leave to the next generation.

  • Roger Batten (F)


Stonehenge tunnel: A waste of money…

This [the proposed Stonehenge tunnel] really is a gross waste of taxpayers’ money. A dual carriageway is desperately needed in this location and a deeper open cut would ease the traffic and allow a much longer stretch of carriageway to be built for probably much less cost.

  • Ronald Hodge posted online on article headed “Stonehenge tunnel technical details revealed”

… And a waste of valuable resources…

I agree totally – a gross waste of scarce resources. Surely a deep open cut with extensive landscaping would suffice thus allowing a greater length of dual carriageway to be constructed?

  • Roger Ball,  posted online on article headed “Stonehenge tunnel technical details revealed”

Return of the Stonehenge debate

I have a depressing sense of deja-vu. Twenty years or so ago Balfour Beatty was selected as preferred contractor for the Stonehenge tunnel.

Whatever is the matter with us Brits that here we are with the same old arguments being trotted out with hugely increased peak period traffic jams and a hugely increased cost.

I could go on to talk about the Severn Barrage for which a proposal had already been submitted in 1981 when I joined Balfour. Will we ever learn?

  • John Deverson posted online on article headed “Stonehenge tunnel technical details revealed”

 Maintenance versus new build

Just wanted to back up Peter Styles’ point about Doozers and the lack of interest in maintaining existing systems. The highway network is in a particularly bad state, with roads of all classes across the country well beyond the “filling potholes” situation. Completely new surfaces are needed, with white lines repainted as appropriate and cats’ eyes repaired and replaced.

BIM skils point

As building information modelling (BIM) becomes an ever larger presence in the industry, maybe New Civil Engineer’s team should brush up on their skills?

I thought I recognised it straight away but it took a second to figure it out. The BIM image of Victoria Station Upgrade (New Civil Engineer January 2017) is viewed from below and unfortunately rendered upside down, with the secant walls and bearing piles reaching to the skies. BIM may be good but sky hooks are still something we are yet to master.

  • Keith Ramsay

Editor’s note: A good spot Keith and it’s a fair cop. Must try harder.

HS2 will never pay its way

Repayment-of-borrowing cost will be of the order of £3. per year, £10M per day, £500,000 per hour in a 20-hour operational day. One train every six minutes on each track on average (through the 20-hour day) will mean 20 trains per hour. If there are 500 passengers per train on average, each passenger using nearly the full length of the route will have to pay an additional 500,000/(500x20) = £50, or £100 for a return journey. This will be over and above the normal fare paid to cover operation and maintenance costs. But will so many passengers pay £100 extra for a return journey between London and one of the northern cities? I doubt it. If I am right, the cost to the tax-payers could be as much as £2bn per year.

  • David Deriaz (M Ret’d) posted online on article headed ‘Serious concern’ over HS2 demand forecast

Putting HS2 sums in perspective

David Deriaz thinks HS2 passengers would need to pay £100 extra on average per Manchester (or Birmingham) to London return trip to repay the taxpayers investment in High Speed 2 (HS2). 

It is not as simple as that. If HS2 leads to a doubling of ridership at an average return fare of £100, Deriaz’s shortfall per passenger is halved. If each existing peak long distance passenger is replaced by an extra short distance commuter to London, the shortfall drops further.

In the off peak, HS2 will create space for extra freight trains and makes the whole economy more productive. New rail lines lead to more reliable journey times and space for extra passengers on existing rail lines. 

Deriaz’s question ought to be: are we prepared to invest £500M per year for those economic productivity benefits?

  • John Porter  posted online on article headed ‘Serious concern’ over HS2 demand forecast



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