James Spears

Principal Geotechnical Engineer

Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Who are you and what do you do?
I’m a geotechnical engineer in our Edinburgh office, I manage our ground engineering projects in Scotland as well as leading our geotechnical offering in the Critical Systems (datacentre) environment. The latter role has taken me to projects all over Europe and has led to some amazing experiences – cycling across a frozen sea being one of them! In terms of applying my skills I’m often reviewing engineering options with clients to see if we have the most effective foundation solution or where we can use some specialist ground engineering techniques to reduce programme or prevent material going to landfill. I’m also heavily involved with Climate Change Adaptation so spend some of my time on an Institute of Civil Engineer’s working group as well as developing our own strategy on this important topic.

What or who inspired you to be an engineer?
I think I’ve always been fascinated by solving problems, which couple with a geology degree, ended up with me working in geotechnics and studying for my MSc. I worked for a specialist contractor for a number of years which taught me a lot of design skills as well as an understanding of all kinds of solutions for ground engineering problems. This lets me apply all this knowledge now to help our clients develop the most effective schemes.

What made you decide to join Cundall?
Mountain biking! I worked with Cundall’s geotechnical partner at a previous company and we’d kept in touch over the years with a common interest in mountain biking. When I relocated to Scotland I got in touch to organise a bike ride and ended up with a job offer! There wasn’t a geotechnical team in Scotland at that point so it’s been great to develop the market there and to help our office grow in Edinburgh.

What do you enjoy most about your role?
The variety! Just in the week of me writing this profile I’ve been reviewing earthworks progress on a site in northern Sweden, giving a webinar on climate change adaptation, managing a ground investigation in Poland, and undertaking a due diligence exercise for one of Scotland’s largest landowners. There really is never a dull moment and it’s great to move between projects where I’m undertaking detailed design work on retaining walls or earthworks to providing value engineering advice and high-level strategies for designers. I also lead the Climate Change Adaptation strategy within Cundall, which is something I’m very passionate about and is key to all of us who work in the built environment given the ongoing climate emergency.

What are you most proud of in your career to-date?
I think from an engineering perspective then probably one of the first projects I was involved with at Cundall. This was to undertake emergency stabilisation works to a severely flooded area in Newburn that resulted in a catastrophic washout of material beneath a number of residential properties (in one case exposing nearly the full depth of the piles beneath). Whilst it was a technically complex project with tight budget and time constraints, the best part by far was restoring the site to a point where nearly all of the resident could return to their homes. On a more general note, being part of the group that created Cundall’s new sustainability strategy is something I’m incredibly proud of as it’s shaped both where the company has headed and resulted in us having a much bigger impact on sustainable design.

Tell us the most interesting thing you have learnt or experienced in your time at Cundall
I was selected to go the UK Green Building Council’s Future Leaders Programme in 2018 which was an absolute game changer for me. It was a nine month course that focuses on leadership, innovation and disruptive thinking and really helped me understand myself and how I can have a bigger impact on whatever I choose to apply myself to, as well as making some great contacts around the industry. The skills have come in incredibly useful for everything from giving presentations to clients, managing staff, to persuading the managing partners on what our sustainability strategy should be.


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Bill Bryson Library, Durham University

The redevelopment of the university’s main library was part of the major redevelopment of Durham University’s Stockton Road Campus. The project involved the demolition of the existing library’s east wing, to allow for the new extension, and partial refurbishment of the existing library. 

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Lower Steenburg Yard

Lower Steenberg’s Yard

Lower Steenbergs Yard, Ouseburn, is the second phase of Carillion-Igloo’s development of the Lower Ouseburn Valley. This is part of a development agreement with Newcastle City Council and the Homes and Communities Agency.

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Our people sit at the very heart of what we do at Cundall. Our mission is to provide great opportunities for great people, create fantastic built environments and leave a positive legacy for our communities.

It is the knowledge and expertise of our people which helps us to do this; our commitment to recruiting and nurturing great talent is what has made us successful for the last 40 years and it remains critical to our future plans.

At Cundall, we place special importance on our early careers professionals (graduates, apprentices, interns and more), understanding that they are the future of our business and the key to our long-term, sustainable growth. 

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Cundall's expertise extends to all major markets, so we have a deep understanding of the specific issues, constraints and opportunities facing our clients' market sectors.

Our team of creative engineers draw on our accumulated knowledge to devise the best possible solutions for your project in a fully integrated and cost-effective way.

About us

Established in the UK 40 years ago, Cundall has developed into an international multi-disciplinary consultancy operating from over 20 locations across the globe.