Tribute to Nick Lyness BSc CEng MICE MCIWEM

Nicholas Matthew Lyness BSc, CEng, MICE, MCIWEM - 16 April 1952 to 2 January 2017

Nick Lyness.
Nick Lyness.

With kind contributions from the Lyness family and the Environment Agency.

Nicholas Matthew Lyness, known best as Nick, was born in Minden, West Germany.

His father Frank, from Belfast, was a major in the Royal Ulster Rifles and worked for the British Control Commission following the Second World War and the partition of Germany. His mother, Bettie, from Swansea, worked for the Board of Trade in Hanover, following her demob from the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

After Germany the family moved to Belfast, via Cardiff, where Nick was to spend his formative years and see out his school education. This was completed after A Levels at Methodist College Belfast. Meanwhile Nick's elder brother John studied Civil Engineering in Swansea, before returning to work in Ulster University. His younger brother David became a Geophysicist working in the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge University.

The strong and clear family aptitude for sciences and all things technical was already pointing Nick towards a career in engineering and this direction was confirmed with his taking up a CNAA degree in Civil Engineering at Dundee College of Technology.

Already enthusiastic in his search for engineering knowledge and experience Nick had three junior engineer posts during his degree. From 1971 to 1973 these included stints of site engineering with contractors Farrans, in Belfast, Balfour Beatty in Dundee and also with Stirling and Dundee City Corporation.

Nick met Carolyn while at college in Dundee and they married after graduation in 1974 before moving to Glasgow where he was to train under agreement in the consultants Babtie, Shaw and Morton.

Nick then progressed in the Glasgow design office from Graduate Engineer to Section Engineer and then on site as Assistant Resident Engineer. Nick's work covered public health schemes, storm overflow systems, sewage purification works, industrial effluent surveys, overseas submissions and a period on an offshore rig. He attained his CEng status with Babtie, Shaw and Morton.

In 1977 Nick and Carolyn moved to the North East of England for Nick to work as Babtie's Assistant Resident Engineer (ARE) supervising hard ground tunnelling contracts on the Kielder Water Scheme for Northumbrian Water. This large scale civil engineering project created the largest man-made reservoir in Europe. The new body of water provided a North/South link to the West/East flowing Tyne, Derwent, Wear and Tees rivers. This complex and massive engineering undertaking involved many issues with local communities, landowners and business. Still only in his mid-twenties Nick quickly became established as a person adept at negotiation and dealing sensitively with those affected by the project.

Nick's technical involvement included work on drill and blast, road headers and full-face tunnels at Derwent and the Wear and then moved to the Riding Mill Pumping Station. As ARE, Nick supervised both the contractors' work and completions and his own inspection teams. This comprised dealing with the technical compliance, measuring works for payment, processing accounts, resolving disputes and maintaining programme momentum, whilst also dealing with the community, landowner and business issues. Such a project in the present day would involve specialist community liaison and communication teams to enable engineers like Nick to concentrate on the engineering. Not so in the 1970s and Nick's skill of effective stakeholder engagement was an early hallmark of his success.

Nick left Babtie's in September 1980, for a 13 month period, working for Lord Joicey. He was then asked to take up the role of General Manager of Ford and Etal Estates Contracts, Berwick upon Tweed, a land drainage contracting and consulting firm to the agricultural community on the Scottish borders. The firm also acted as a plant hire and private agricultural drainage R and D business employing 38 staff. The firm had a prestigious client list but was in severe financial difficulties when Nick took up the reins. Nick instigated robust fiscal management and rescheduling of overdrafts. Debt recovery and billing was improved and enhanced client focus and information was instituted to ensure customers were not provided with unwanted surprises! Nick also embedded a culture of realistic estimating and market pricing of work whilst restructuring the staff and improving the recording and monitoring of work. This was allied with a detailed investment strategy which secured funding for future business development.

However, having gained tunnelling experience with Kielder, Nick then applied for a post as Resident Engineer with Weymouth and Portland Borough Council to supervise the construction of coastal outfall tunnels and pumping stations. Nick and Carolyn duly moved south to Weymouth and he took up the post in October 1981 shortly after the birth of their first son Daniel.

This Main Drainage Scheme for Weymouth and Portland Borough Council was part of a rolling £35M programme of contracts associated with their agency role for the Wessex Water Authority.

Nick, as the Resident Engineer, had to establish the site teams, supervise the compliance of the works, administer the contracts, agree and authorise stage payments, negotiate tunnelling claims and settle the final accounts. The civil works contracts included tunnels, coastal structures, pumping stations, large diameter gravity and pumped pipelines through urban and rural areas. Construction sites included public highways, military bases, naval and air stations, defence research establishments, schools, many residential gardens and numerous 'SSSIs'. Inevitably there was considerable local opposition during the progress of the scheme and Nick, using skills developed at Kielder, was to lead in relations with the public. This included public meetings and negotiations with organised opposition groups, media and local politicians. Nick was also seconded to other consultants, working in the Borough, to administer their engineering contracts so that he took a key role in civils work on the Weymouth Stone Pier, Portland Sewer and other contracts.

During their moves Carolyn, a primary school teacher, taught in schools in Scotland and the North of England. She took a break once Daniel's brothers Christopher (1983) and Fraser (1987) arrived. Carolyn returned to primary teaching in Weymouth after Fraser started school. Carolyn has also more recently given art classes, for adults, in her studio at home.

The 1980s saw Lyness family roots being firmly set in Weymouth. Nick and Carolyn quickly became established in the local community, hosting their infamous 'Burns Night' annually in January, with upwards of 20 friends crammed into their family home complete with haggis, tartan and Caledonian Poetry. Nick was intensely proud of Carolyn, her artistic, professional and home making skills and her determination to surmount any practical or human challenge.

However opportunities in Civil Engineering are not always close to home and one requiring a significant commute from their Dorset home beckoned and so, in January 1990, Nick joined the newly formed National Rivers Authority (NRA) Thames Region. This was as their Principal Contracts Engineer. Nick built up a Contracts Section comprising 14 directly employed staff plus consultants. Nick's section would select contract types, vet and select contractors suitable for projects and then conduct the tender process and evaluation and then award of contracts.

Nick's NRA section would then conduct contract supervision and administration, measurement, final account and claims resolution. He also managed the NRA Thames register of consultants and contractors for all functions and provided advice on contract strategy, contractor selection, buildability, value engineering and contract law. Nick's experiences had shown him that good staff development, growth in professional competence and appropriate recruitment were key to good outcomes and he duly took a close personal interest in his staff's development and pursuit of professional qualifications which had become another hallmark of his approach.

NRA promotion accordingly followed in April 1993, with Nick becoming the West Area Thames, Capital Manager. In this role Nick also managed the Project Management Group (PMG) for the West Area and the Thames Engineering Group (TEG) for the Region. The PMG was a team of project managers and their duties included Construction Design and Management Regulations 'Planning Supervision' with 200 projects at various stages of progress. Nick also had a wide range of clients, with capital work covering flood defence, navigation, water resources, fisheries, conservation and other things. Nick's very broad engineering and environmental knowledge allied with an ability to instinctively and systematically understand and manage risk meant the programme was in safe hands.

Nick's individual projects varied from traditional civil, mechanical and electrical construction to regional IT harmonisation, creation of 100-hectare wetlands for the RSPB, construction of 30 fish passes for the Thames Salmon Trust and the creation of River Restoration demonstration sites. Nick was the project executive for the majority of these schemes and managed the overarching capital programmes.

The dramatic and politically driven changes to the way these public services were provided around this time meant often that the majority of engineering skills had been or were being transferred to the private sector. Nick was always a champion for the importance of an 'intelligent' client and his Thames Engineering Group (TEG) was to become an exemplar of developing and retaining client and project manager expertise so that proper leadership could be exercised. Nick was the Engineer to the Contract and Supervising Engineer for professional development. He was also a member of the Thames Water Regional Project Assessment Board with responsibility for all the regional 'Capital Expenditure' functions. Nick represented the Thames Region at the national Engineering Management Group, chaired the National Mechanical and Electrical Group and was regional risk management champion. These outward looking roles grew and Nick was soon also involved in international knowledge sharing with overseas visits to Hungary and Japan.

In 1996 the National Rivers Authority was disbanded and its functions were subsumed into the broader remit of the Environment Agency. It was under this new organisation that Nick was to take on a new role in July 1998 when he became West Area Thames, Navigation & Recreation Manager. This entailed managing Oxford, Wallingford and Reading Navigation offices, 30 lock houses, lock and weir complexes, some with the added complication of integrated campsites! Nick managed capital and revenue budgets and assumed River Thames Harbour Master duties for the area whilst being a formal consultee on all river local authority planning applications. The role involved managing up to and over 100 employees, including uniformed staff. Nick's management skills were ultimately directed at providing efficient and safe lock and weir operations through the numerous Thames Valley towns and cities. However Nick's prodigious personnel skills and diplomacy also had to be applied dealing with whatever emerged including from users of the 25,000 registered vessels!

A year later in July 1999 the opportunity arose for Nick as the former Environment Agency's South Wessex Flood and Coast Risk Manager, Blandford, before in 2008 becoming the Area Flood and Coast Risk Manager for the full Wessex Area". This demanding role, with a staff roll call of up to 110 colleagues, entailed delivering annual investment of up to £30M on capital and revenue works. That delivery often involved partnership work with developers, local authorities, water companies, highways, Railtrack (then Network Rail), RSPB, Internal Drainage Boards, Regional Development Bodies and more recently, Local Enterprise Partnerships along with others. Nick's ability to engage, persuade, negotiate and deliver were never in greater demand and the challenges were only amplified by increasingly frequent organisational changes in partners and the political, strategic and legal frameworks for the service and environment it operated within.

Besides the Agency's own work and associated work Nick was also responsible for the organisation's response to planning applications and for consenting to rivers and coastal activity. His work also covered overseeing improvements, asset management, enforcement and water resource work including abstraction, licensing, hydrology and hydrometry. Of course, the regional environment challenge of Nick's area entailed preserving a pristine environment where 60% of rivers were designated for the Agency's administration and 2 coastlines, comprising the Severn, with its second highest tidal world range, and the World Heritage designated Dorset Coast. The operational challenge of promoting and implementing capital improvements and providing an effective service with limited resources was, again, amplified in the wake of the financial crisis where priorities changed and funding and other resources could not match demands.

Nick was also responsible for the overview of all flood and erosion risk, from all sources, administration of grants and programme management. This included provision of a flood warning service, being lead for EA incident management response and working with the Local Resilience Forum. Historic records show the high propensity the South West has for heavy and prolonged rainfall and, with it, flooding. The unique topography profoundly magnifies the issue in certain places like the Somerset Levels where draining low lying land reclaimed from the sea has been vexing the human population for many hundreds of years. Meanwhile debateable modern developments and buildings in low lying areas had happened over several decades in the Agency's Wessex area just as it had elsewhere.

Alongside those many challenging issues was the growth of the digital age arguably bringing greater expectations of service, prompt responses along with an apparently unprecedented succession of severe weather events that experts have attributed to climate change. Nick was closely involved in helping deal with the Gloucestershire floods of 2007 and subsequent responses. However, it was in 2012/13 that those demands reached something of a crescendo for Nick's own Wessex area. This was the year when 300 communities flooded across the Somerset Levels and Moors. The political turmoil and intense media coverage these events spawned demanded almost constant response, commentary and imagery from a depleted resource of officers and engineers who were, at the same time, attempting to respond operationally to the practical realities of the crisis.

Nick's family, friends and colleagues will all testify that his customary devotion to duty and tireless effort only went further into overdrive on such occasions. His own time and sleep were frequently sacrificed to deal with whatever issue surfaced. No matter the time of day or night that an email was dispatched to Nick the sender would invariably be amazed at the speed and helpfulness of the response. Nick's ability to see a way through and his generous and cheerful sharing of wisdom and assistance was legendary among his immediate colleagues and his many associates in partner organisations. His general approach to leadership and selflessly delivering the best possible public service in spite of the many obstacles was an inspiration to many.

However Nick was not one to get mired in the problems of the present. As a deep, analytical and strategic thinker Nick would always be looking to help the industry and decision makers to learn from current or emerging issues in order to help forge a better and more sustainable future. His desire and cheerful confidence that his profession would take a lead in those problem solving endeavours is encapsulated in a brief talk for the ICE:

Of course, there was another flooding emergency in the meantime in the north of England during the winter of 2015/16. Nick was, once again, at the vanguard of experts drafted in to help colleagues there deal with that crisis.

Those skills and that generous spirit and insight made Nick a highly sought after contributor and expert for various technical groups and committees. He duly sat on numerous panels such as the UNESCO Jurassic Coast Management Board, Coastal Forums, Flood Boards, European KRING (European North Sea Tidal Surge Group) project executive on research projects, University of the West of England Industrial Advisory Panel, the Future Forum, the Dorset Coast Forum Steering Group, EU Interreg (Interregional) Projects and with his brother John he advised the EU HORIZON programme HARMONISE on Man Made and Natural Hazards.

Nick was often at the forefront of change and innovation nationally within the heart the Environment Agency. His drive, enthusiasm and influencing skills were key to the development of a number of new work activities including, National Coastal Monitoring Programme, Coastal Handbook, Property Level Protection, Groundwater Flood warning service (probably the first of its kind), Vulnerable Mobile Home parks / Caravan parks, Community Flood Wardens, National Programme Board, National Hydrometry and Telemetry Board, South West Flood Risk Managers Group, Olympics (Portland sailing), etc.

With these many commitments in the UK and overseas and sharing his time between his offices at Bridgwater and Blandford Nick was a prodigious traveller. However, he was never one to rush off first from any gathering, if anyone needed or wanted to speak to Nick he would happily stay on to help, often being the last person to leave and with the longest journey home.

As a committed and passionate Civil Engineer, Nick also subscribed strongly to the values and ethos of his professional qualifications and Institution membership. He saw the value in engineers sharing their views and experience for the greater good and he was an enthusiastic and leading light in the Institution of Civil Engineers. Nick was instrumental in setting up the Dorchester ICE Club in 2007 and chaired it for nine years. He was also elected ICE SW Regional Chair for the 2010/11 session and represented the SW at the ICE's Regional Affairs Committee during the same year. Nick was also a long time ICE SW Regional Committee member and sat on the national ICE Geospatial Panel. Nick's very broad knowledge meant he could make a telling contribution to any debate and offer ideas about both managing risk and maximising opportunities across many disciplines.

Amidst such an intense and demanding job it was always a revelation to colleagues that Nick found any time for home and family! That is where the already remarkable story of Nick's doings start to take on almost mythical proportions. In the first instance, idly packing his three sons off to school was not Nick's style at all. With Carolyn, he took the keenest possible interest in their development and education. Nick would duly become the Chairman of Governors at the boys' secondary school as well as playing a prominent part in the school's outdoor classroom programme which included helping out on weeks away to Dartmoor for Year 7's.

Dan, Chris and Fraser all grew up in Weymouth and each found different paths; Dan joined the Royal Marines, serving tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and Chris gained a PhD in chemistry and recently took up a role as Head of Energy Storage for the European Space Agency, after several years developing Electric Vehicle technology for the Jaguar Land Rover group. Fraser followed his mother into the Arts, becoming a Graphic Designer initially for The Times newspaper before recently becoming Director of Graphic Journalism at The Daily Telegraph.

Nick had a great sense of adventure and he enjoyed sea kayaking with Carolyn off the West coast of Scotland and along the Dorset coast. They have also kayaked in the Scilly Isles and even through the canals of Venice. Hill walking and skiing were normal weekend activities when they lived in Scotland including taking part in the Ben Lomond Hill Race. Nick also took part in the Three Peaks Challenge, the Ten Tors and ran the London Marathon 4 times and the Great North Run twice. Meanwhile at Weymouth daily seas swims became the order of the day.

The boys were initiated into outdoor pursuits at an early age with Daniel summiting his first mountain in a backpack at 10 months. Fraser started his climbing at the deep end with his first mountain being a 3000ft Cuillin on Skye. Further hill walking exploits followed with the Snowdon Horseshoe and some Via Ferrates in the Dolomites. When Fraser was 10 and Daniel 15 a summer family outing was arranged....cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats. This was completed in 18 and a half days. In Nick's case, some of that was cycled on a replica Penny Farthing. The following year the holiday involved paddling 100 miles down the River Wye. However, one of the boys is known to have enquired..."When can we have one of those holidays where you enjoy yourself?" – meaning one with a swimming pool and what has become known as 'chilling out'.

Later on Nick and Carolyn took great pleasure and pride from seeing the boys develop their own challenges. At age 15 Chris climbed Mont Blanc with the Dorset Expeditionary Society and a few years later spent 3 months in the Arctic with BSES expeditions.

They clearly had not fully escaped their upbringing as they continue to mount their own expeditions, cycling and climbing in far flung places from northern Spain to Greenland and beyond. Daniel, a keen road cyclist is part of the Navy Cycle team. He recently celebrated the 350th birthday of the Royal Marines by riding 350 miles non-stop.

Despite Nick's professional focus becoming more managerial he was always passionate about engineering and visitors to Weymouth would often find themselves being taken on coastal walks, only to discover the object of the outing was not to take in the landscape but instead to look at the sea defences of some cove or another.

Nick truly loved engineering and perhaps his most passionate appreciation for it was reserved for an occasion when he travelled further afield becoming involved with the Okhle Trust, a Weymouth based charity funding development of local infra-structure in an out-of-the way valley in Nepal. Each person who arrived in the area, with the intention to work for the charity, was encouraged to use a trade or technical skill that they had to help the local community. Nick was able to use some grass roots engineering skills which were desperately needed to source and store water in the area. He revelled in the opportunity too. This culminated in a trip to install a borehole where Nick was technical advisor turned 2nd class labourer. He was amazed by the local women. When hardcore and aggregate was required they appeared with small hammers and began to break down large rocks until the correct size was produced.

Nick's warmth and enthusiasm were clear to anybody who met him and he enjoyed immensely any chance to share his knowledge and passion for engineering through speaking at conferences and through his work with the Institution of Civil Engineers. He always had time for anybody who shared his enthusiasm and would go out of his way to help younger engineers, offering career advice and making time to mentor them. A brief ICE Talk conveys some of Nick's outlook and encouragement for up and coming colleagues:

Nick was never happier than when he was with his family, whether it was goading one of his sons into the famed Christmas Day Weymouth Harbour Swim, or recently, when the family got together for a coast to coast cycle from Morecambe to Bridlington over a bank holiday (also roping in one of his unsuspecting daughters in law!).

With the addition of his two grandsons Tristan (5) & Ethan (3) Nick was enjoying his role as 'Bampa' teaching the boys Chess, getting Tristan to re-felt the shed when their mother was not watching and introducing them to the subtleties of coastal engineering and flood defence on their many walks along the Dorset coast.

Nick is survived by his wife Carolyn and his three sons Daniel (35), Christopher (33) and Fraser (30) and by his two brothers John and David.