James Thomson of Jason Consultants, opened the debate correcting the spelling of his name and explaining his Scottish Ancestry. He said the his upbringing had taught him to be careful with the ‘bawbees’ (shillings), yet here was a situation where utilities were taking money out of his back pocket to subsidise their activities and he was powerless to stop it. It was only by the introduction of the mandatory application of the use of minimum disruption techniques such as trenchless technology that the true cost of utility works could be more fairly shared.

The utility providers did not reimburse the cost of disruption, such as loss of business, vehicle operating costs and environmental impacts. Utilities are for profit enterprises and under present legislation have extensive rights to open up the streets without restriction and without consideration of the costs they impose on the community. We had to rethink our priorities with regard to service providers.

Much of the legislation that is in use today was drawn up when horse and carts were still in the streets, this had to change with the increased congestion both on and under our roads.

From studies undertaken it had been calculated that the annual traffic delay costs were 1.3 times the value of the utility works (not including the pipes and cables) This represents a total annual cost to the public of £1.4 billion. When other costs attributable to utility trenching are added the estimated figure becomes £2 billion annually.

Utility providers do use trenchless methods where they consider them to be economic but often they are they are badly managed and therefore lose any benefit that might be gained.

He said to be fair, utility providers were conscious of growing public concern and recently appointed consultants to help mitigate the situation. However closer investigation discovered that these were not engineering consultants but a PR firm to present their case in a more favourable light.

People were suffering from ‘trench fever’ and the only way to cure it was to introduce legislation to protect them.

Finally he said “As present legislation has failed to provide a fair balance between the utilities and the conmmunity we need to make mandatory the use of minimum disruption methods such as trenchless technology in urban areas like London. This will reduce congestion, environmental damge and be a benifit to all and I won’t have to subsidise the utilities with ‘bawbees’ from my pocket”.

Richard Fraser of ARM Services, seconded the motion with a description of the many types of trenchless technology that could be used in our urban areas, but before that he reminded the audience of the extent of trenchless technology.

World wide there are now 25 national trenchless societies which started originally in the UK. There are 3420 members and 491 corporate members. He asked the question, “could they all be wrong?”.

He said trenchless was not a panacea for all situations but it must be mandatory to consider their use in all situations. It was a misunderstanding by some people that you needed to be a brain surgeon (more like a gynaecologist) to operate some of the techniques. They were now much simpler and cost effective. He said they were more ‘low-dig’ rather than ‘no-dig’.

&#8220Nevertheless, I believe that the techniques of road working are improving, given the amount of traffic that has to be dealt with. As regards better co-ordination among contractors, noble Lords may not believe this, but one of the best examples of co-ordination is taking place in Parliament Square where no less than five groups are using the trench at the same time. That is a good example of how this sort of activity should be organised.”

Lord Whitty (House of Lords 9th Feb 2000, Road works: Delays and disruption)

Looking at the trenchless equipment that was available there were two types ‘basic’ and ‘complex’, but run by specialist firms who gave operatives proper taining to a high standard whether it was basic or complex. It was far easier to let the cowboys loose on trenches than trenchless equipment.

There was now such a range of trenchless equipment that there really was a practical solution for all problems. New installations could use virgin ground moling, directional moling, directional drilling, pipejacking and ramming, microtunnelling and of was pointed out that even the Channel Tunnel used trenchless tunnelling technology. Replacement of existing utilities could use techniques such as sliplining, tight fit linings, pipe bursting and pipe eating. He commented that tight fit linings could be roll-down or fold-down to suit the particular circumstances or pipe replacement specification. Rehabilitation could use spaylining with cement mortar, epoxy or ceramics. Thin wall tight fit linings, spiral wound, cure in place soft linings and localised repairs with epoxy resin, gel based leakage repairs and ground stabilising chemical injection.

The equipment was sometime large as illustrated in the ‘swaging’ machine but it was generally static and provided a process that was definitely quicker than trenching. Richard then quoted some trenchless facts and figures:

  • Average costs down by 50% compared with open cut.
  • Around 90% trenchless was used on planned utility projects.
  • Almost 50% trenchless was used on reactive repair and maintenance contracts.
  • Trenchless use was positively shown to reduce incidents.
  • Trenchless showed a 30% reduction compared to open cut.
  • To end Richard displayed the Scottish flag not only to illustrate his origins of birth but also to represent ‘frugalness’ rather than ‘meanness’. This was the message of trenchless; cost effective, quicker, safer and with minimum disruption.

    To oppose the motion Kevin McNicholas of McNicholas related how his company did both trenched and trenchless construction through out the country. The biggest growth industry was, however, telecommunications and the ensuing urgent requirement for ducting through the streets of cities particularly like London was paramount in keeping pace with the industry. These ducts had to weave about the streets, in and out of existing services, in large bundles of ducts and also pass adjacent to telephone exchanges. Generally the ducts were set in the pavements and did not cause obstruction to traffic. There were also many lateral connections, often every 6 to 7m in to individual office blocks. This work without the skill of the duct layers in open trench would be almost impossible to do by trenchless means. It was not practicable to do this shallow work by any other means but it was quick, was carried out under the provisions laid down in ‘Best Practice in street works and Highway works’ and certainly created minimum disruption without the constraints of mandatory legislation.

    In seconding the opposition to the motion Ken Bainbridge of JCB, started by running through the history of the JCB excavator from its first basic model in 1936 up to the modern day high tech, high spec, user, client and public friendly machine of today. He then highlighted the words in the motion that said ‘minimum disruption techniques’ and ‘mandatory’.

    JCB were Europe’s No 1 excavator manufacturer and had the unofficial motto of “Quicker, quieter, smaller, more efficient…”. This was the way machines were now being made and driver comfort was paramount. Rubber treaded, small swing, powerful mini-diggers, some with remote control, had been developed to provide minimum disruption in urban areas. Environmentally they were noise rated at less than 80 dB and used all biodegradable oils and greases. JCB were certainly at the fore front of technology in both work output and speed but not without consideration for the environment.

    The answer, as far as he was concerned was not to make trenchless technology mandatory but to take a leaf out of JCB’s book and market the product better. Give everyone in the industry a better chance to decide for themselves which was the best option. Did mandatory mean having more sets of this equipment on a job rather than using trenchless techniques? Was the motion misleading? Did we not already have the minimum disruption techniques without the need for mandatory regulation? JCB innovation was certainly brought about by market forces rather than mandatory controls.

    Ken Bainbridge said that to end he would remind everyone of the next years debate where it will be mandatory for everyone to come on a bicycle. How many people will comply? Did it make sense to make the use of trenchless technology manditory? Not in his book!

    The chairman now opened the debate to the floor of the house.