Pioneering sustainable drainage scheme could save Manchester millions

In a scheme which could save millions if replicated across Manchester, a team headed by Business in the Community (BITC) has built a rain garden and transformed a large area of parking and pathways at Moorlands Junior School in Sale to demonstrate the benefits of sustainable drainage.

United Utilities estimates that sustainable drainage schemes like Moorlands’ could save up to £1.75m a year for education budgets if all the city’s 1,300 schools adopted similar measures, with the potential savings at other public buildings and spaces even higher. A similar demonstration scheme is now being planned for an NHS health centre elsewhere in the city.

BITC invited senior business leaders to see the project at Moorlands for themselves as part of a Prince’s Seeing is Believing event to coincide with 2018 Responsible Business Week. A further 120 delegates from across the UK attended the Smart Growth Innovation Lab yesterday; an event that will look at the role of business in making Manchester a leading green city.

Sustainable drainage schemes (SuDS) which divert rain from playgrounds, roofs and car parks away from the public sewer, could potentially cut hundreds of pounds a year off the water bills of organisations like schools, other public bodies and businesses.

They also reduce flood risk, improve river water quality and increase community engagement, biodiversity and green space while protecting society at large from the cost and disruption associated with constantly upgrading and expanding sewer networks.

Head of Water at BITC, Katie Spooner said research carried out as part of the Water Resilient Cities project had established that a programme of sustainable drainage in schools and other public buildings across Manchester could free up money for public services and help Manchester meet Mayor Andy Burnham’s aim to be one of Europe’s leading green cities.

“The work at Moorlands School is the exciting culmination of two years of work led by BITC’s Water Taskforce and supported by the Environment Agency, GMCA the British Geological Survey and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. The idea was, using Greater Manchester as a test bed, to help UK cities build their resilience in the face of climate change, population growth and increased urbanisation. Sustainable drainage schemes work by mimicking the way nature manages water, slowing its flow so that the environment has time to deal with it.”

The work at the school was managed and carried out by a collaborative partnership including United Utilities, Arup, Costain, Marshalls, Atkins, CLASP and Stantec who also provided data, technical expertise and materials for free.

Additional funding came via Natural Course, an EU LIFE integrated project to build capacity to protect and improve the water environment.

Katie Spooner added:

“One of the most important aspects of the project has been to establish that investing in SuDs can be cost effective, not just for schools, but for properties across Greater Manchester and beyond. The benefits go beyond direct financial savings and environmental resilience, the green and blue spaces that SuDS can create education opportunities, health and well-being benefits and improved air quality. We’re now actively working on funding streams to help cash-restricted public services like schools and the NHS reap the advantages of these measures without dipping into their own reserves.”

According to headteacher Alison Kelly, there were two driving forces for getting involved with the project:

  • the environmental impact as a school
  • monetary savings on water bills as school budgets get tighter and tighter

United Utilities’ Head of Sustainability Chris Matthews said:

“Traditionally, managing the flow of surface water has been seen as the responsibility of water companies and local authorities, but investing bill payers’ money in ever more pipes and treatment works is not always the best way. We need to work more broadly as a community to find a solution, and involving the children of Moorlands in planting up their new rain garden means, as future water bill payers, they are more in tune with the environment and are seeing the positives for themselves.”

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Thames Water to take full account of NIC report recommendations

Thames Water chief executive Steve Robertson has welcomed today’s report by the National Infrastructure Commission which is warning the Government that England faces taps running dry without urgent infrastructure improvements.

The water company chief said Thames welcomed the flagship report and would take “full account of its recommendations” as it revises its draft Water Resources Management Plan, after the consultation period closes this weekend.

Steve Robertson commented:

“We agree that more needs to be done to protect customers from the real long-term risk of severe drought. In the worst case scenario highlighted by the report, restrictions on water use in London alone could cost the economy more than £300 million a day.

“Our long-term proposal for a major new reservoir would allow the transfer of surplus winter rainfall from the wetter west of our region to the drier east, and so benefit customers of several companies in London and the South East.

“Our highest and immediate priority is to make the most effective use of the water we already have. This includes being even more ambitious in our plans to cut leakage – in line with the Commission’s call for a 50% reduction by 2050 – and fitting more smart meters to help customers use less water and provide the information we need to pinpoint leaks.”

The report Preparing for a drier future: England’s water infrastructure needs published today by the National Infrastructure Commission says England’s homes and businesses could face having their water supplies cut off in times of severe drought, if the water industry “does not improve infrastructure and water efficiency”.

Thames Water develops a Water Resource Management Plan every five years which sets out how the company will provide a secure and sustainable supply of water for its customers now and in the future, and support economic growth.

Visit to comment on the company’s plans covering the next 80 years, from 2020 to 2100.

Pier UK | New Lane Rental Schemes Demand Faster Excavation Techniques

The announcement that Lane rental schemes will be rolled out nationwide brings fresh concerns from contractors about mounting costs.

Lane rental schemes, piloted in London and Kent, are intended to incentivise Utility Companies to avoid working on main roads during peak times.

Although the scheme has proven successful in helping to reduce congestion levels on busy roads, many contractors are unhappy with being charged up to £2500 a day for carrying out roadworks on specific routes.

However, the schemes have achieved overwhelmingly positive feedback from respondents who were pleased with the reduction in congestion and looks set to be rolled out nationwide by the end of 2019.

Lane rental is also designed to encourage utility companies to collaborate and work together in order to avoid the same stretch of road being dug up multiple times. A move that has been welcomed by road users and local government alike.

Transport minister Jo Johnson said:

“Drivers often see red when roadworks cause them delays, especially if no one is working on them. Lane rental has seen a massive drop in disruption to drivers as utility companies have changed when and where they carry out work. Now we want millions of motorists around England to get the same benefits.”

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said:

“This is a very welcome announcement. Trials showed that some of the worst congestion caused by planned utility works in London was reduced by half on roads where lane rental was in operation, so rolling this out will extend the benefits nationwide.”

Unsurprisingly, however, the changes have proved unpopular with contractors and Utility Workers who insist that there is no proven link between Lane Rental Schemes and reduced traffic.

Bob Gallienne, chief executive of Street Works UK, said:

“It is disappointing that the government has decided to extend lane rental without any clear evidence that it reduces congestion. We support initiatives to reduce congestion but we believe this approach is a blunt instrument that will make it harder for utility companies to deliver vital infrastructure that powers the economy. The government’s own analysis of the existing lane rental schemes concludes that there is no causal link between lane rental schemes and reduced congestion.

Utility companies are delivering the infrastructure that the UK needs to drive up productivity, create economic growth and deliver on government’s priorities such as broadband and new homes. While we do not believe lane rental is the best solution, we will continue to work closely with the government to ensure their proposals are implemented in a manner that reduces complexity, recognises the need for consistency and is only used in targeted and limited situations.”

Despite protests from Civil Engineers, Utility Workers and various contractors, the lane rental schemes look set to stay.

In response, many in the industry have now turned their attention to how to best to maximise efficiency by getting the job done quickly and safely, starting with faster excavation methods…

Modern excavation methods such as Vacuum Excavation (also known as Suction Excavation) can excavate up to 2m3 per hour and the truck’s inbuilt skip can hold over 8m3 at a time, making it one of the best options for speed and efficiency whilst excavating around buried assets.

In addition to their obvious speed advantage, there are numerous safety benefits to employing the use of a Vac Ex. Vacuum Excavation minimises the risk of service strikes and injury by eliminating the need for mechanical diggers.

Sean Quinn, Managing Director at Pier UK said:

“Vacuum Excavation has grown hugely in popularity over the last few years and with the UK’s largest fleet, we are prepared to meet that demand. We expect that the new lane rental schemes will increase the need for faster excavation techniques across the country in order to keep project costs down. We have a range of excavators in our fleet that are designed with particular environments in mind.

Our Dino 3 range can be spotted at construction sites and roadsides up and down the UK. Next, we introduced the City Sucker compact excavator for areas with limited access such as city centres. Finally, we introduced our newest excavator in March 2018, the Tracked Vac, this Vac Ex is the first of its kind in the UK and is specially designed for off-road work, making haul roads and ground protection mats a thing of the past.”

You can find out more about Vacuum Excavation and Pier UK here

Key role for Cranfield Uni research in €22m concentrated solar power and desalination plant in Egypt

Technology developed by Cranfield University researchers has played a key role in a multi-purpose concentrated solar power plant which has opened in Egypt.

The €22 million project was funded by the European Union Framework 7 programme and the City for Scientific Research and Technological Applications (SRTA-City). The aim of the research consortium was to transform a semi-desert region and produce a steady supply of electricity and water to the local industrial facilities and the 1,000 people that live in the area.

Located in Borg El Arab near Alexandria, Egypt, adjacent to SRTA-City, the solar power plant is a combination of advanced solar energy-producing technologies, integrated with a desalinated water process and a cooling unit facility, making it possible to generate electricity and to co-generate fresh water in a desert region.

Cranfield University has the only UK research team in this field dedicated to research on concentrating solar power (CSP). The team devised new methods of measurement to ensure the solar collectors, which are mirrors, fulfilled the specification required at the site.

Dr Chris Sansom, Associate Professor in Concentrated Solar Power, at Cranfield said:

“This is one of only a few concentrated solar power plants in the world. We’re delighted to have been part of the collaboration between research institutes and businesses from both Egypt and the European Union. The testing and validation undertaken by our team has ensured the mirrors are the ideal shape, providing near perfect reflectance and durability in this hot and dusty environment.”

CSP mirrors need to be a parabolic shape and have a uniformly high level of reflectance to reach peak efficiency. The research ensured the mirrors which ‘catch’ the sunlight reflect it into the absorbing collection tubes, which thereafter transport the heat to the power block where it is converted into electricity in a steam turbine and generator.

To assess the solar collecting mirrors, the Cranfield team developed a photogrammetry technique that uses multiple photographs of the surface of the mirror taken at different angles, which is then analysed in 3D, to measure the shape of the mirrors. The team then used reflectometry to assess surface reflectance, thus completing the mirror validation process.

The Cranfield team also designed the desalination unit and the cooling system which are integrated into the plant.

Speaking to The Egyptian Gazette, Ambassador Ivan Surkoš, Head of the European Delegation to Egypt, said:

“The project is an excellent model of strong and successful collaboration between research institutes, public sector and private sector from Europe and Egypt, with the ultimate goal of the prosperity of our peoples.”

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Leak detection – Southern Water tests super-intelligent SmartBall

Southern Water is testing the revolutionary SmartBall device which travels along water pipes and can detect weakened pipes before they become bursts.

Supported by partners Pure Technologies and Water Research Centre Ltd (WRc), Southern Water’s technology team are applying the bowling ball-like device developed for use in the oil and gas industry in the 13,000 km of pipe line that make up its water network.

The brains of the ball are housed in a small hardened globe which contains acoustic sensors which can ‘hear’ a leak of as little as 0.11 litres/min. Other detectors can spot unevenness in pipes and pockets of air in a pipe. The data is transmitted to surface stations placed along the pipe’s path or downloaded when the ball is recovered. The brains are covered with a bright blue protective sponge layer making SmartBall look like a bowling ball from a distance.

‘We have worked very hard on finding new ways of finding and fixing leaks with a goal of eventually reducing wasted water from our vast network to zero,’ said Sarah Elliman, research and development project manager, ‘Innovation and collaboration go hand in hand at Southern Water – we look for the best technology and the best partners and work together to deliver the best solutions to the challenges we face’.

Keith Walker – Head of Infrastructure at WRc – commented:

“We are really pleased with how smoothly the SmartBall project went for Southern Water, and in collaboration with our partners Pure Technologies. The combination of SmartBall and Sahara – a tethered tool for inspecting pipes – means we can inspect rising mains of any length with minimal disruption to service. In-pipe inspection provides the confidence to target replacement and maintenance activity most efficiently, and we look forward to supporting Southern Water in the future – now we’ve got the ‘ball rolling’.”

Leak detection has long relied on simple techniques. Hand held listening tubes held against pipes in the hands of a skilled operative are still used. More modern acoustic logging devices perform a similar role with sensitive digital technology. Finding where to look relies on metering the inputs to sectors of the network and comparing with meters at outputs.

Southern Water is working in collaboration with WRc on the project.

Motorists may need special licences to operate driverless cars

Dreaming of watching TV while the car does the driving? It may never happen…

Motorists could need special licences to operate autonomous vehicles when they arrive on the roads of the UK, a new report has suggested.

The Venturer report, conducted by insurance firm Axa and legal company Burges Salmon, points out that autonomous cars could lull drivers into a false sense of security, rendering them completely incapable of regaining control of the vehicle if it can’t cope with a situation.

According to the report, an autonomous vehicle that cannot cope with every possible circumstance will occasionally have to hand control back to the driver. However, the driver’s attention could ‘wane’ when a car is in autonomous mode, causing a lack of situational awareness that could prove fatal if the driver’s skills are called upon suddenly.

It’s phenomenon that is well documented within the aviation industry, where pilots’ over-reliance on automated systems such as autopilot has been deemed a contributory factor in several air accidents.

Indeed, a 1994 report by the American National Transportation Safety Board found that inadequate monitoring of the controls was a contributory factor in 31 of 37 accidents investigated between 1978 and 1990.

The Venturer report claims that it takes drivers up to 2.5 seconds to regain control when deactivating autonomous mode.

Professor Sarah Sharples, professor of Human Factors at the University of Nottingham, said distracting activities such as watching TV or using a mobile phone while the car is in autonomous mode may need to be outlawed.

‘It is important to understand the implications of increased autonomy on the capability of humans to maintain vigilance and attention in order to be able to respond to an emergency situation,’ she said.

‘It may be necessary for the rollout of highly autonomous vehicles to be accompanied with the advice – or even law – that in some or all circumstances the driver must maintain attention to the driver situation and that other activities should be minimised or avoided.’

£10m a year needed to ensure England’s soil is fit for farming, report warns

Soil erosion and water pollution caused by poor farming practices mean land could become too poor to sustain food crops by the end of the century.

England must invest £10m a year to ensure its soil is productive enough to continue to grow food by the end of the century, a new report warns.

Soil erosion and the pollution of watercourses is putting the entire £8bn farming industry at risk, according to the study from WWF, the Angling Trust and the Rivers Trust, which warns that failure to act now risks jeopardising future food production and the provision of clean water.

Poor farming and land management practices are causing soil to be destroyed at approximately 10 times the rate it is being created, figures show, costing England and Wales £1.2bn a year. The report puts forward a model for land management where environmental and food production needs are given equal weight to reverse the decline.

Soil quality is increasingly causing concern at a national and global level. In March, the UK government indicated that its agricultural bill, expected to be published later this year, would contain – for the first time – measures and targets to preserve and improve the health of the UK’s soils. The UN has recently warned that the world’s soils face exhaustion and depletion, with an estimated 60 harvests left before they are too degraded to feed the planet.

The report sets out a nine-point plan for achieving healthy soil and water and argues that a £10m a year investment is “good value for money” against a backdrop of £2bn spent on EU agricultural subsidies and the £1.2bn cost of soil degradation. Brexit presents a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to redirect these farming subsidies for the public good, the authors say.

Immediate investment is needed to reverse the declining health of England’s rivers, with just 14% classed as healthy after being polluted with sediment, nutrients, chemicals and slurry from farming.

The report calls for a fair and effective enforcement regime to tackle the 20-30% of farmers that are reportedly not complying with England’s water protection legislation. This would cost £5.8m a year for a five-year period, it says.

A targeted payment scheme that would encourage farmers to make environmentally beneficial changes in land-use such as taking strategic areas out of rotation would equate to less than £500m a year, according to the report.

It also highlights the “critical” need for a properly funded, locally co-ordinated advisory service to help farmers implement rules and manage the environment. An increased advisory presence in England would cost £3.2m a year, it says.

Tony Juniper, executive director of WWF, said: “Healthy soil is vital for our national security, yet we continue to cause immense damage to it, not only threatening our long-term food supply but also harming our rivers and wildlife. None of this is inevitable though. We could have a farming system that restores soils and wildlife, while at the same time stopping agricultural run-off polluting our rivers. To do this we need not only the right legislation, however, but also robust enforcement and proper advice for farmers, otherwise new policies simply won’t work. The good news is that this will cost only about £10m pounds a year.”

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