Article - Issue 35, June 2008

Response to: Flood Risk Management; Responses to: Can Regional Clusters be engineered?; Response to Climate Change: Engineering a solution: Response to Kumar lecture

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Response to Flood Risk Management

Recent letters and an Opinion piece by Jean Venables OBE FREng, Chief Executive of the Association of Drainage Authorities (in Ingenia 32) have commented on flood-risk management in the UK and on the Thames Estuary (Ingenia 25) in particular.

We are aware that several London rivers run through peat and sand soils and hence are subject to movement and erosion through natural river processes. The location and design of flood defences along these rivers takes into account these factors to ensure the defences can perform their function over their design life. The flood defences in the Thames Estuary are regularly inspected and a record of their condition is kept on a database. An annual maintenance programme is carried out to ensure these defences are in an acceptable condition to perform their function during high water levels.

Our capital programme enables us to carry out refurbishment or replacement of defences as part of our range of responses to reduce flood risk. The project teams implementing capital works follow the Defra Project Appraisal Guidance, which includes allowance for climate change. All construction work is designed and supervised by experienced civil engineering consultants and contractors, who work with us throughout the appraisal, design and construction of the schemes.

In managing flood risk we ensure that people at risk understand the dangers that they face. Each year we invest in flood awareness campaigns and provide free information, including Flood Maps, to everyone through various channels, including the internet. We consult and discuss our work programmes with local communities and other organisations that we work with. Through the process of developing our plans, particularly Catchment Flood Management Plans, and our Thames Estuary Strategy, we engage with other organisations who will need to take action to manage and reduce the consequences of future floods. We also ensure that planning authorities assess the flood risks associated with new development to avoid inappropriate development in floodplains, and to maintain access to defences for maintenance.

The sea defences in the UK last faced a major test in 1953 when storms and a surge tide caused severe flooding along the east coast. Many of the coastal defences at that time overtopped and were damaged by the floods. The situation now is quite different. We have rebuilt and replaced many of the ageing defences. We undertake regular inspection and repair. We prioritise those defences protecting most properties. Although we can never be certain that our defences will sustain all that nature has to throw at them, we have learned from the experiences of the past and improved our sea defences to a standard far above that of 1953. This has been demonstrated in recent events which have threatened the east coast, and elsewhere, with flooding.

We accept that in some low-risk locations, trying to holdback nature is not sustainable or cost-effective. In these locations we will exercise a policy of withdrawal from or re-alignment of our defences, saving valuable resources to be redirected at higher risk, higher priority locations.

The flood risk in London is significant, but it is managed through the provision and maintenance of flood defences and the Thames Barrier, as well as the many other actions that we and our partners take to reduce flood risk. It is vital that we continue to invest to ensure London can continue to live with the flood risk, under current and future climates.

Baroness Young

Chief Executive, Environment Agency

Responses to Can Regional Clusters be Engineered

I would like to add some additional observations to the excellent article on regional clusters by Professor Webb (Ingenia 34).

While the ‘cluster’ label is often used as a shorthand for a location or region where there is a noticeable concentration of businesses involved in a particular industry (such as motorsports), the view taken by the economic development community implies something more than this. This view, shaped significantly by the work of Michael Porter at Harvard Business School, considers a wide range of elements within the economy and an equally wide range of (often complex) interactions between them. In this case, the idea of a cluster is essentially to do with a network of firms, individuals and other organisations that collectively develop and supply products for a given market, or markets. In many respects it is the interactions between the participants that are most important and that create a dynamic, flourishing industry (or group of industries).

A key consideration, and source of debate, is the extent to which a given ‘cluster’ is robust in the sense of providing all elements of the value chain – from basic research, through product development, to marketing products and supporting the products in the market for their whole life cycle. In this context, a lot of locations that might be called ‘clusters’ appear more to be relatively one-dimensional concentrations of R&D capability with limited capacity for creating new economic activity through the creation and delivery of products or services, rather than being something that represents a broader and deeper economic engine. It could be argued that a test for the existence of a successful cluster is the contribution to regional GDP that their participants make. While it would be unfair to judge cluster creation efforts in this respect at too early a stage, many established ‘clusters’ would fail this test as Professor Webb notes.

Another key consideration in this is where the boundaries are drawn. It is in the interests of economic development organisations to be creative in this respect, and I have seen some representations of the Cambridge ‘cluster’ in which a circle has been drawn around Cambridge with a radius of as much as 60 miles. In a densely populated, industrialised country, this approach will yield ‘clusters’ more or less wherever you look.

Here, in the US, there have been demonstrably successful efforts in cluster creation in both Austin, Texas and in the state of Maryland. The latter has had a significant growth of a bioscience industry over the last 15 years. Their efforts are based on the reasonable premise that they are home to a very large number of key federal organisations that are involved in medical research and regulation, and have been able to build a credible base of companies.

The phenomena is spreading worldwide and we, at ANGLE plc, have also been involved in many projects aimed at developing clusters including the education and technology cluster which is under development in Qatar, which I believe will ultimately be successful, not least because of the refreshingly long-term and pragmatic view taken by the authorities there.

Dr Gary Evans

US Chief Executive Officer, ANGLE plc

Professor W illiam Webb discusses how regional clusters can be encouraged in Ingenia issue 34. In this context it may be worth reminding ourselves of some of the factors suggested by Messrs Segal, Quince and Wicksteed in their 1985 study of the Cambridge Phenomenon – the establishment of over 300 hi-tec firms in the Cambridge district in the 1970s.

One factor was the exceptionally liberal conditions of service of academic staff at Cambridge University. The University made no claim on intellectual property developed by members in the course of their work and put no restrictions on their accepting consultancies or directorships with outside companies.

A second key factor was the availability of finance. Fortunately developments in biotechnology, computer science and instrumentation did not require major investments in plant and the banks, particularly Barclays, were prepared to provide working capital on the security of orders.

Another factor was the benign attitude of the local authority which encouraged the establishment of light industry in the area, allowing small firms to set up in the surrounding villages as well as on the Trinity Science Park and its successors.

A further factor was the availability of staff, not only graduates who wanted to stay in the area, but also technicians trained locally in an environment where restrictive practices were rare.

It is interesting to contrast the situation in Cambridge with that of Peterborough where a similar phenomenon did not occur. The Peterborough Development Corporation made strenuous efforts to attract new business to the growing city, taking advantage of the experience gained in earlier ‘New Towns’. However, there was no institution of full university status in the city and Cambridge was just too far away for the sort of easy and close contacts enjoyed by firms within 15-20 minutes of Cambridge.

Stephen Bragg FREng

Response to Climate Change: Engineering a solution

I was interested to read Sir David King’s contribution ‘Climate Change – Engineering a Solution‘ in the March 2008 issue of Ingenia.

What seems to be missing in the debate on proposed approaches to the “radical decarbonisation” that he argues for are any numerical data regarding what total contributions could possibly be made as a result of technological advances.

It seems to me that a “top-down” analysis is urgently needed, quantifying what reductions in the world’s total carbon emission would be possible from realistic scenarios in - for example - more efficient transportation, better insulated homes, reduction in air travel and so on. Most commentators focus on the “bottom-up” approach highlighting the output from wind energy or the savings in more efficient motor vehicles without quantifying the total possible world-wide contribution which they could achieve.

Bodies like the IPCC and those signing up to the Kyoto and other agreements have put enormous effort into analysis and quantification of the problem, and to the setting of targets for carbon emission reduction, but it appears that almost no effort has been put into identifying and analysing the possible overall contributions from the various technological changes being considered.

Geoffrey Lomer CBE FREng

Response to Kumar lecture

A letter responding to Professor Panganamala Kumar’s Vodafone lecture 26.03.08

Some car owners might relax in a red-light district, but all would find driving much more relaxing in a “no-red-light” district. Inter alia Professor Kumar indicated how adapting traffic lights to the actual traffic at a junction could reduce drivers’ red-lights stress. However the following simple deterministic scheme can eliminate red-light frustration almost completely, throughout a road network:

The Basic Scheme

  1. Roads form a regular grid, with intersections spaced by equal intervals D.
  2. Programmed roadside speed and information signs format the traffic into “caravans” of speed V and length D/2, spaced by D/2.
  3. Any stray vehicles have to wait at the next intersection for the next caravan
  4. The lights are green during odd-intervals D/2V for vehicles moving E-to-W or W-to-E, and during even intervals D/2V for vehicles moving N-to-S or S-to-N.
  5. Hence all lights are green for the transits of the relevant caravans.
  6. Turning vehicles leave their caravan at its tail, to join an orthogonal caravan at its head.
  7. Small fractions of the caravan’s length, at its head and tail, may be reserved for incoming and outgoing turning vehicles, respectively.
  8. Pedestrian crossings need no central islands, unless they are remote from grid intersections.

Flexibility

Many existing road networks might not be amenable to the scheme, as described so far. However, in fact:

  1. The orientation of roads can be quite arbitrary, provided roads in one set (“N/S”) intersect only those in another set (“E/W”).
  2. A road can switch from one set to the other, but, each such switch imposes a delay of D/2V on its caravans
  3. Spacings D and speeds V can vary arbitrarily, provided only Di / Vi = k D/V, where k is any integer.
  4. When appropriate, e.g. for rush-hour or sporting events, the time- slot allocations to the two sets of roads may be unequal.
  5. Occasional “caravans” can be left empty, to give extra time to pedestrian crossings

Professor Ralph Benjamin FREng

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