Oral history of British science

Head, Peter (Part 7 of 14)

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  • Subjects

    Civil Engineering

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    The British Library

  • Interviewees

    Head, Peter, 1947- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 7 [1:39:51][Interview Three: 12 October 2012] Further comments on Euroroute Channel proposal: finishing detailed design and costings over intensive period of work in Croydon offices; colleague Jean Paul Tessandier from GTM-Entrepose and his capacity for handing complexity, who PH later worked on other projects; bridge team checking arrangements with French bridge designers; span design issues; supportive but intense working atmosphere; [05:35] status of outline design; competition with other project, service model of passengers and freight; private finance funding implications; publicity of projects to gain political support; private finding allowing more innovation; [11:16] PH limited direct contact with government; popularity of private finance under Margaret Thatcher's Government, Thatcher's relationship with French president Francois Mitterrand; loss of contract to other project after knife edge decision, Thatcher favouring tunnel project due to lower costs and financial risks to government; ambitious nature of PH group proposal. [14:42] Comments on work on Second Severn Crossing: influence of Euroroute on use of wind shielding for traffic; anecdote about testing of wind shielding with a Luton van and a crosswind generator; [19:29] testing of stability of bridge fitted with wind shielding, use of Ministry of Defence snow and ice testing facility; crosswind stability of shielded bridge compared to bridges with traffic, PH work with Tom Wyatt of Imperial College; various bridge design issues; design of bridge to allow continuous maintenance; [24:43] limitations and problems with first Severn Bridge, problems for vehicles in high wind; environmental concerns in designing bridge in a designated Ramsar site; need to allow access to shipping to Sharpness Dock, use of ship to shore radar. [31:00] Further remarks on environmental issues: opposition from civil servants to including environment concern; influence of experience of working with environmental community on Canada Northumberland Straits bridge project; effects of large tidal range of Severn Estuary on pollution; engagement with environmental groups, such as Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. [36:00] Description of Second Severn Crossing, cable stayed design, crossing of Brunel's railway tunnel, attractiveness of S curve in design, concern for attractiveness of bridge, choice of colours. [38:58] Remarks on PH personal role on Second Severn Bridge: leading bridge discipline in feasibility studies; leading procurement then delivery process, eventually becoming government agent; development of PH career. [40:50] Remarks on daily work: dividing thinking between projects, part organisational, part innovative thinking; Yeoman house offices in Penge, then Maunsell House in Beckenham, close to PH home; description of offices, new computers, engineering displays, hierarchy of proximity to window, sounds of talking; [47:15] replacement of drawing boards by computer aided design [CAD], interaction between different groups; tea breaks; flexible working hours; growing ethnic and gender diversity of offices; limited social life, importance of family; cricket league between consulting engineers, such as McDonald and Halcrow; [53:30] doing creative work at home; involvement of wife and family in work, watching earlier bridges being built, anecdote about daughter's joke about Severn crossing. [55:56] Remarks on children: 1990s civil engineers not wanting children to follow in their footsteps; PH encouragement to children, son studying technology and design at Loughborough, daughter teaching. [57:35] Comments on computer use in civil engineering in 1980s: computer models, word processing, laptops; computer aided design; need to continually update skills. [1:02:25] Further remarks on daily activities: meetings with colleagues, civil servants, stakeholders and others; reading and jotting new ideas; long term planning for Severn Crossing; description of long term corrosion maintenance design details, borrowing expertise from offshore building practice. [1:08:00] Comments on integrated ways of working in engineering between different teams, influence of Maunsell partner Brian Richmond on PH's view on integrated approach to engineering. [1:10:33] Comments on decision making processes in engineering: examples of crossing location and type selection on Severn Crossing; selection of cable stayed bridge and English Stones location across Severn; factors affecting choice of location for piers. [1:16:08] Comments on story of building the Severn Bridge: political considerations leading to PFI project for link between England and Wales; delivering objectives and service over long term; satisfaction at end of process; disagreement between PH and civil servants over wind-shielding of bridge. [1:21:00] Story about contemporary concerns over wind shielding of the Dartford Crossing: Kent and Essex county councils disallowed from from being PFI bidders; Trafalgar House developing idea of bridge from earlier Maunsell ideas, but without wind shielding; PH defending wind shielding in acrimonious Select Committee investigation, including Mott McDonald and MPs George Galloway and John Reid; Peter Bottomley removing wind shielding from proposal; resultant Dartford Crossing closure during storms. [1:27:05] Further remarks on select committee investigation into Dartford Crossing. Story about PH feeling his own credibility challenged by an engineer from the Euroroute proposal over wind shielding. [1:30:30] Remarks on resonances of PH experience building Second Severn crossing and FFP building first Severn Crossing: links between Maunsell on FFP designed Yarra Bridge; Maunsell's Alex Wallace's work on first Severn bridge; comparisons between first and second Severn bridges and the engineering cultures that created them. [1:34:12] Remarks on being an innovator: taking research and using it in new structures; planning for the future life of the second Severn Crossing bringing PH into community of innovators; role of government from mid 1990s in promoting innovation; self-perception of self as an innovator from work on composite material work. [1:37:00] Description of PH during his time at Maunsell: reputation as Steel bridge engineer; confidence in abilities; stresses of children and low pay; hobbies; enjoying providing new projects for young engineers.

  • Description

    Interview with civil engineer, Peter Head

  • Related transcripts

    Peter Head interviewed by Thomas Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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