National design panel calls for improvements on strategic network

08/04/2021
Chris Ames

Highways England’s Strategic Design Panel has called for a more concerted effort to achieve a ‘significant shift in design culture’.

The panel has published its fourth progress and recommendations report, which sets out progress from June 2019 to the end of 2020 and makes recommendations to take forward in Highways England's second road period (2020-25).

The report says Highways England has made further progress ‘in establishing the context for change over the past year and a half, through continuing to address previous Panel recommendations and aims’.

It adds: ‘But a more concerted effort is needed in the remaining second road period to achieve a significant shift in design culture, particularly around climate change, carbon and biodiversity.'

Among the report’s criticisms is a comment that: ‘There currently appears to be varied or minimal visual coordination of design features, and an inconsistent driver experience, along many road corridors.’

The panel made three ‘key recommendations’:

  • accelerate communication and training to promote and embed its design vision and principles into its processes and culture
  • act on the Panel’s recommendations for adapting to climate change, reducing carbon, supporting biodiversity and the design of corridors
  • publish a design strategy to clearly articulate its ambitions for the second road period and beyond

Picture: Proposed southern tunnel approach for the Lower Thames Crossing

Mike Wilson, the government owned-company’s chief highway engineer and panel chair, said: ‘The three essential qualities of good road design are safe, functional and elegant. And it is the latter, with careful attention to detail, that will elevate the quality of the network and deliver our vision of good design for people and places.

‘In the second road period we will embed our principles of good road design further, so that their use becomes business as usual and second nature.

‘I do not doubt there will be new design challenges ahead, but we have great multi-disciplinary design teams and with the support of the Strategic Design Panel, we will rise to these.’

Highways England said the panel ‘continues to positively influence the design of schemes’, and specifically commended the landscape-led design approach of the proposed A417 Missing Link in Gloucestershire.

It said advice from design reviews has encouraged a change in the proposed road’s gradient, which will further reduce visual impact and also impacts on local woodland and water courses, waste, traffic, carbon footprint, and construction time, while making cost savings.

Steve Roberts, engineering design lead for the Lower Thames Crossing, said: ‘The advice of the Design Panel was invaluable in the shaping of our scheme proposals, particularly in the early stages of development, helping to define those factors that should influence the design and how the design should respond to its context.’

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