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ICE President Keith Howells visits Northern Ireland

15 December 2022

ICE President Keith Howells's tour of the region includes a visit to the NI Department for Infrastructure.

ICE President Keith Howells visits Northern Ireland
ICE President Keith Howells visit a construction site in Northern Ireland.

Last week, accompanied by two of my Future Leaders (Kyle McLean and Benjamin Delmond), I visited Northern Ireland to attend the local ICE annual dinner and awards.

We also took the opportunity to visit Ulster University and the Belfast Grand Central Station project, as well as attend a lunchtime discussion with the NI Early Careers Network (ECNet).

We also met the Permanent Secretary for the Department for Infrastructure, Julie Harrison.

How academia and industry connect

At the recently completed building for the Belfast campus of Ulster University, we held a Q&A session with final year civil engineering students, followed by a tour of the facilities (including the shiny new engineering laboratories).

We then had a discussion over coffee with faculty members and members of the university’s Industrial Liaison Panel (ILP) to understand how they were developing the curriculum to take on board topics such as climate change and the UNSDGs.

It was also useful to learn about the role of the ILP in feeding industry’s views on what needs to be taught into the curriculum.

Promoting the President’s Future Leaders

Atkins hosted a lunch for the local ECNet, chaired by Niamh Treanor.

The early career professionals (ECPs) asked some very good questions including how effective the ICE is in influencing government policy.

They also asked some personal questions, such as why I became a civil engineer, favourite projects I’ve worked on, key lessons learnt, and so on.

It was also good for ECNet to meet Kyle and Benjamin and learn what the Future Leader’s scheme was about and how to apply for future opportunities.

The NI Department for Infrastructure

Our visit to the permanent secretary of the Department for Infrastructure and members of her senior leadership team led to wide-ranging discussions.

These included the problems of dealing with budgetary constraints and how to do more with less, while also addressing the climate agenda.

We also talked about skills shortages, recruitment and attracting young people into the industry.

Kyle, Benjamin and Niamh were very useful in responding to that, noting the importance of values to young people in choosing careers and employers.

Thanks to ICE Trustee David Porter for arranging that.

Olympic inspiration

Over 500 ICE members and guests attended the annual dinner at the Europa Hotel.

Apart from the usual speeches, various awards were presented and local celebrity Lady Mary Peters of Olympic Gold medal fame (1972 Munich), and one of the late Queen Elizabeth’s companions of honour, was the principal guest speaker.

Following her moment of Olympic glory, she has spent much of her time raising money to support local sports development and helping young people.

Keith Howells at NI annual dinner
ICE President Keith Howells at Northern Ireland annual dinner. Image credit: Keith Howells

Learning about transport services across NI

Our final morning was spent with Translink, the main provider of transport services across Northern Ireland.

They outlined their programme for decarbonising their activities including promotion of active travel, electrification of the bus fleet and encouraging greater use of public transport.

We discussed their rail strategy which, as well as upgrading old, and opening new, rail lines, includes the adoption of hybrid trains with combined electric and battery propulsion.

This not only reduces the amount of new overhead line, but also avoids the need to raise over-bridges, as the pantograph can be lowered when passing under the bridge.

This was followed by a visit to the Belfast Grand Central Station site which, when complete, will provide a multi-modal transport interchange in the centre of the city involving trains, buses and active travel options.

Thanks to ICE Council member Philip Brown for arranging this.

A big thank you also to Stephen Orr, chair ICE Northern Ireland, Jenny Green, ICE regional director, and to the other ICE regional committee members and the regional support team for their support during my visit.

Thanks also to all those who helped arrange the dinner and the visits.

Watch Keith Howells' presidential address

  • Keith Howells, president 2022/23 at Institution of Civil Engineers