In May, Highways first reported on the update to the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB), sometimes referred to as the Bible for roads, which must be done by March 2020. Last month, Dominic Browne caught up with Steve Davy, pictured below, head of technical standards at Highways England, to find out how this key project is progressing.
How have you gone about this task?
We recruited new technical specialists and content specialists who assist them in writing clear sentences that can be understood by general designers, who use the documents to develop our road schemes.
Another big area is in our new software systems. We have a Collaborative Authoring and Review System (CARS), which enables multiple authors to work on the same documents at the same time and control the formatting. So if they want to insert a requirement they press a button and the system inserts a new section, controls the formatting and checks for the use of the correct verb forms. Advice and notes are also inserted and checked in a similar way.
Is there a concern that this will be too much of a rush job?
No, because we have increased staff and the documents that we are developing at present are of a very, very high quality. I know of many technical specialists who have said it’s the best document they have ever produced.
Is there any change to the format?
The current document set sits under themes, so you have a topic for structural assessment, structural design, road layout things like that, whereas we are going to move to an asset lifecycle. Each of the documents will be contained depending on the activities undertaken, whether it’s scheme assessment, scheme design, scheme construction and ultimately operational maintenance and demolition.
What areas will make a big impact on the front line?
To be able to search across the whole document set. We are enabling complicated searches that allow people to go into the documents at different depths to find the topic they are looking for.
You still have to get EU approval. You have to do this by 2020 and Brexit could happen before then. What would happen then?
We don’t know. Under the technical regulations and standards directive, we submit our draft documents to the European Commission, they review them for three months and then either come back with formal comments or no comments, which means we are able to publish. We have to comply with that legislation up until the moment the UK leaves. After leaving the European Union we could voluntarily choose to use [EU] harmonised standards if we so wish, irrespective of anything else, if that is appropriate.
The approval process covers the whole of the UK and there is a sign-off process that involves Transport Scotland, the Welsh Government and the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland. We need to make sure it is all signed off before we can publish.
When will the first documents be out?
Certainly within the next few months.
Some say Highways England has not involved local authorities enough. How would you respond?
I would challenge that. We had many local authority responses to our consultation, which we have taken into account and I continue to work with ADEPT on this.
In fact we are going to make it easier for them to make their own local alterations to the DMRB if they choose to do so. We are setting out a core document, which applies throughout the UK and is voluntary on local authorities, then possibly some national application annexes that will apply to the motorway and trunk roads in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but below that there is a local application annex template.
Each local authority or a body like ADEPT could produce a sample one, which they could use to vary the main DMRB document.
Are there any key changes the private sector is calling for?
They want it to be easier to use, with fewer interim advice notes. We are going to eliminate the interim advice notes and incorporate them into the main DMRB.
They want rapid updating of the documents, which we are facilitating because once the documents are developed under the new system they will be updated on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis rather than as a document and we will have the facility to
update more quickly and easily after that.
The Government said the DMRB would take account of the work of the Strategic Design Panel for roads. How will you incorporate good design aesthetics?
We need to bring in the outcome of the Good Design Guide into the DMRB. I don’t see there being any issue with describing what the aims are and putting them in this technical document. We are looking to have a document within the DMRB and have sections to guide designers in how to design a good road and have good aesthetics. That will create the consistency across the whole of the network.
What has been your personal experience of the process?
I am very pleased that we have gone down the route of developing our own software. We are now talking to various other standardisation bodies in the UK and elsewhere and becoming a world leader in software development for standards writing.
At the moment we are still committed to making the documents available free of charge and that’s in our licence agreement. We actually see it as good for UK plc to make our standards available free of charge. We know consultants win business abroad because other countries choose to use the UK standards.