John Thomson, President of the International Federation of Municipal Engineering (IFME) representing the interests of over 300,000 Municipal and Public Works Engineers globally, led the IFME delegation to Beijing, China to undertake its most recent board meeting.
The China Municipal Engineering Association (CMEA) most generously hosted the IFME Board meetings in Beijing which took place the last week of October 2019. During the visit the Chinese challenges encountered with rapid urbanisation and providing the necessary infrastructure were explored.
IFME was established in the Palais de l’UNESCO, Paris in April 1960, with the purpose of improvement of acquired knowledge of urban engineering, from technical, legal and administrative points of view. The UK was a founding member of IFME. This Federation represents municipal and public works engineering internationally and is also a member of The World Federation of Engineering Organisations. The membership of IFME includes the Institution of Civil Engineers.
The IFME Board meeting addressed a range of internal business along with examining international understanding and actions on technical and asset management aspects. A further meeting between senior Chinese delegates and IFME members was held. Developing personal contacts to strengthen ties with Chinese professionals provides a closer understanding of relevant current issues as well as assisting in develop processes to address future issues. Items of interest to Chinese Engineers were BIM, infrastructure asset management, de-carbonising transport, and how digital knowledge can be beneficial to managing urban space and delivering quality management.
John presented to the Chinese delegates on IFME’s history and purpose using a practical example of analysing the de-carbonisation of transport. He demonstrated how IFME is providing international evidence to support actions to meet climate change, a key issue.
The visit of IFME to China was clearly regarded as a highly important development to the Chinese Provincial and National Governments for exchanging knowledge.
The importance of the visit was demonstrated with an unscheduled formal meeting between John Thomson as President of IFME and Mr Li Rusheng, Chief Engineer for the Department of Housing and Urban-Rural Development for The People’s Republic of China. Initially the meeting discussed sharing information and practices across IFME members. However key issues such as urban development and its impact on public infrastructure and traffic issues were discussed. John highlighted how highway infrastructure needed to coordinate with a range of functions such as drainage, traffic management and other environmental aspects to deliver benefits both in Beijing and the wider impacts nationally. The meeting concluded with an undertaking for IFME and CMEA to examine areas of concern in greater detail to identify specific areas where joint working would be beneficial.
The meeting was a very successful, positive and agreeable exchange of understanding and actions on both parts to share knowledge across IFME’s international members. Of most importance was the reference by the Chief Engineer to relating the discussion to President Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China.
“China has a critical advantage in having professional engineers operating at the highest level within government” said John Thomson. “This should be a major lesson for the UK where engineers have been eliminated from many local authorities and central government. Cost effective procurement as well as detailed knowledge and understanding of such matters requires competent engineers on the client side.”
A key aspect of IFME board meetings is gaining an understanding and witnessing firsthand a range of issues affecting the country it visits. As well as experiencing Beijing with a population of 22 million, the delegation also visited Xi’an to further experience the challenges of rapid urbanization. Xi’an is one of the oldest cities and historically the 3rd city in China with a population of some 13 million.
Both Provincial and National Governments have acknowledged obvious issues such as traffic, air quality and rapid and massive land development as concerns and are working to mitigate their impacts in a sustainable manner. For example, air pollution levels have markedly reduced in Beijing over the recent 10 years.
The provincial Government in Beijing have restricted further city expansion into rural areas. Currently it has 6 ring roads to date with plans for a 7th and final orbital road of about 1,000 km encircling the city centre. The cities future expansion has to be managed in a 3-dimensional manner. John further commented “China is working on protecting its environment and decarbonising its transport but has recognised that commerce generates traffic volumes therefore an effective highway network is essential. This is something that the UK needs to understand in its drive for a carbon neutral environment.”
At the generous invitation of the Beijing Municipal Construction Group Co. Ltd., IFME delegates visited a number of important civil engineering sites including a new underground section of the expanding Beijing Metro and the new overhead highway development in Xi’an connecting the airport to the city centre. The Xi’an highway link is impressive in its ability to construct a high level 10 lane highway using the central reserve of the existing heavily trafficked highway without impacting existing traffic flows. “In my opinion this infrastructure development does allow space for future transport innovation such as light rail if required” said John.
During further business meetings over the week, IFME delegates witnessed the range of infrastructure works undertaken by the Beijing Municipal Construction Group Co. Ltd., which are truly impressive. Their budgets are enormous, but delivery periods are challenging. The company philosophy appears to be focused on construction innovation and quality and judging from their numerous awards they are very successful.
These site visits allow delegates to discuss technical details with site personnel to get not only a strategic view of issues but a tactical understanding as well. A number of site staff had worked abroad and were fluent in English thus permitting this free exchange.
The IFME delegates returned from Xi’an to Beijing on the new Chinese Bullet train to experience the smooth 200mph 4.5-hour trip. Unbelievably this route project consisting of 1216 km of bespoke track was built over 2 years. The scale of the stations was impressive and closely resembled an airport in scale and format. During the journey delegates witnessed the massive expansion of China’s infrastructure and housing into the rural areas along the route. It is a bit unsettling to see such a scale of development that must have amounted to more than 50% of the trip.
The long days of the visit packed in technical and administrative matters along with witnessing the comparison of traditional Chinese construction with their modern world, as well as experiencing the impact of traffic problems in China’s cities.
John said “China represents an extreme example of the impacts of expanding urbanisation, but can inform other countries following a similar path just what that looks like and educate them how to address and mitigate the associated impacts”.
“We were overwhelmed by the warmth of welcome of the CMEA, and went away impressed with the professionalism of the engineers, and sheer scale of the works being undertaken” said John Thomson.
At the visits, conclusion Mr Xie Xiaofan, Vice President, International Relations Director, CMEA indicated future travel to ICE offices in London where John agreed to meet him with a view to exploring further joint cooperation and collaboration.