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ICE president highlights innovation during South West and North West visits

24 May 2023

Keith Howells toured exciting new facilities and projects while visiting these UK regions.

ICE president highlights innovation during South West and North West visits
The ICE president learned about development opportunities for each of the regions.

During the first week of May, I visited the South West and North West regions in the UK, the latter accompanied by Lucy Davison, one of my Future Leaders.

Visiting ICE South West: innovations in marine engineering

In the South West, I visited the University of Plymouth which is particularly well known for its marine engineering capabilities.

Here we toured the site of the new engineering and design facility, currently under construction through refurbishment of the existing Babbage building. It will be extended with new accommodation and laboratories, including a wind tunnel testing facility.

We also visited the marine and coastal laboratories where the physical wave, current and tidal testing facilities are being modified to accommodate testing of floating wind turbines, in addition to the usual coastal and wave modelling.

We also visited the digital marine simulator which can model the response of vessels to various coastal environments under differing wave and tidal conditions.

We saw the new maritime cyber security research facility which is aiming to secure ships’ navigation and operational equipment against cyber-attack. Apparently this is a growing threat to shipping and marine operations.

Learning about the university’s work

We heard from the vice chancellor, Judith Petts, who introduced us to the work of the university, in particular the investment being made in enhancing the engineering facilities.

Deborah Greaves, professor of ocean engineering, presented an overview of some of the ongoing research and development work.

This included projects on autonomous and robotic marine vessels, floating wind turbines and cyber security threats.

Regional opportunities for development

We held a round table discussion on the opportunities for the South West to develop floating offshore wind capabilities.

In particular, the readiness of the ports to accommodate the imminent revolution in offshore wind in the Celtic Sea, where up to 20GW of floating offshore wind development has been proposed (the Celtic Sea is too deep for fixed bed turbines).

Development of this would lead to significant investment and job creation in the region but requires expansion of the ports and the local supply chain, as well as investment in grid connections.

This is clearly a huge opportunity for the region but does depend on some initial seed funding to expand the ports and provide land for fabrication of floating units.

Participants included:

  • academics from the university
  • specialists from the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult and from Crown Estates (who license the use of the seabed)
  • offshore wind development companies
  • local authorities
  • the Environment Agency
  • contractors and consultants
  • directors from several of the major ports in the area
  • members from the Southwest Infrastructure Partnership (which was started by ICE South West)
  • the ICE South West Regional Committee

At the end of the day, third year students from the university (guided by Dr Jon Miles and associate professor Boksun Kim) presented some of their projects.

These demonstrated the wide range of active research on coastal and fluvial modelling as well as on decarbonisation and reuse of materials in concrete.

A big thanks to ICE regional director Miranda Housden and the rest of the team for arranging the visit as well as the University of Plymouth for hosting us.

Visiting ICE North West: exciting new structures

The visit to the North West started with a tour of the new stadium for Everton Football Club, currently under construction by Laing O’Rourke.

This £500m project is being built on one of the old docks - infilled with marine sand which will continue to consolidate for some years (although fans will be relieved to know that most of the consolidation is over).

The site also has a number of heritage features which are to be preserved, including boundary walls built by French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars and a hydraulic tower that was used to power the dock gates.

The stadium construction is using modular off-site construction for the concrete stands and terraces.

With the roof being constructed from pre-assembled steel sections (within transport constraints), the stadium is making excellent progress and is expected to be finished on programme in time for the 2024/5 season.

Incorporating social value in our projects

The site visit was followed by a lunch meeting and Q&A session with early career professionals, hosted by Mott MacDonald.

This was followed by a round table discussion on how we can better incorporate social value into our projects, which was chaired by Stephen O’Malley, ICE North West regional chair.

Celebrating engineering achievements

The well attended annual awards dinner was held at the Midland Hotel in Manchester.

Once again there were a number of eye-catching winning projects including:

  • a bridge repair on the M60 motorway that was completed 11 months early saving £8m off budget;
  • Low Crosby Flood Risk Alleviation scheme on the River Eden that delivers over £8 million in natural capital benefit;
  • realignment of Salteye Brook, a sustainable scheme that will facilitate construction of the UKs first tri-modal port facility accessible via an in-land waterway;
  • Blackburn Wastewater Treatment Works which won the innovation award; and
  • some incredible young engineers in the Rising Star category.

Does England need a transport strategy?

The following morning (not too early), we held a second round table (again chaired by Stephen) on whether England needs a transport strategy.

This will feed into the consultation that the ICE policy team is currently holding.

This was a wide-ranging discussion encompassing local, regional and national priorities and the importance of focussing on outcomes which are socially inclusive and environmentally positive.

The issues of freight, decarbonisation, affordability/subsidies, and the importance of recognising the different requirements of different transport users were discussed.

It was hard to draw too many conclusions, although the importance of giving transport bodies the freedom to determine what is right for them at the local and regional levels, rather than impose solutions from the centre was noted.

The ICE policy team will hopefully make sense of it all!

A big thanks to the ICE regional director, Emma Antrobus, and her team for arranging the visit, and to North West Regional Committee members Stephen O’Malley, Yuli Doulala-Rigby, Jeff Ashurst, Nushma Juwaheer and Kit Wolverson for all the support they provided.

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