Highways England faces “big challenge” over updating national standards

Highways England’s licence requires it to update the entire Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB), which holds national standards and requirements for the UK motorway and all-purpose trunk road network.

Arash Khojinian – team leader for pavements, safety, engineering and standards at Highways England – has told Transport Network how the work is going, and suggests he will be a “very busy man” for the next few years.

The report says leading his team in pavements at Highways England he will be heavily involved in updating the DMRB, which is no small task, especially as it has to be done by March 2020.

On top of this, Highways England has been tasked with finding £1.2bn efficiency savings by 2020 and out of that £500m is targeted to come from pavements.

As he took to the stage at the recent Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) conference to give a briefing on the work, chairman Howard Cooke joked about how long it takes to update guidance. “I was working on a document numbered 37, which is how many years we have been waiting for an update.”

Mr Khojinian took this in good humour but was careful to address these concerns.

“We have less than three years to write the document as we have to allow time for notification and publication processes. This is a big challenge for us but we have to do it. We have to get it done.”

To give you some idea of how big a task this is and how important, consider that the DMRB covers around 300 documents running to some 11,000 pages, with the most popular TD 27, having been downloaded millions of times by people and organisations all around the world.

However it is also an ageing suite of standards. The average age of the documents has increased from four to 15 years over the last 35 years, with different documents often produced in different formats, Mr Khojinian said.

‘The future DMRB will have a consistent style and format and be intuitive to use. Fulfilling this means that all documents will require updating.’

He also revealed that there will be a maximum five-year review cycle for all documents in the DMRB.

Highways England has undertaken a consultation with industry and stakeholders over the updated guidance and several recommendations came out, which are set to be taken forward, Mr Khojinian said.

The DMRB will continue to only set out requirements for the United Kingdom motorway and all-purpose trunk road network and not the local road network, Mr Khojinian revealed.

He said: “Up until now we have always tried to work with local authorities and other organisations to accommodate their needs as well. We should still be able to find a way to accommodate other organisations as we do work very closely with them, so it’s less of an issue for us but this is quite clear now – it just covers Highways England’s needs.”

Key reforms

Less prescriptive and less bureaucratic

Through the update Highways England will seek to reduce the number of prescriptive standards and increase the number of performance standards, in line with industry best practice, and thereby reduce the number of departures from standards. Mr Khojinian described this as the main challenge, but one he welcomed as a positive move.

Currently, if a contractor wished to depart from the standards for a particular material or technique perhaps, it would have to go through a Departure from Standard procedure. It is estimated each departure process costs the sector as a whole £25,000, Mr Khojinian said.

He revealed to Highways that a new assessment procedure for innovative techniques and materials will be used based on a technology readiness’ level.  The new procedure will be more outcomes-based.

If it’s been working for a few years, if we have had a few departures for the solution before, we will give unique approval and write an outcomes-based spec.

Interim Advice Notes (IAN) and National Application Annexes (NAA)

Mr Khojinian also revealed Highways England will try to move away from IANs.

“That’s a positive if we can get things published quickly. I think they are only supposed to be there for about six months.

In pavementing I think we’ve had one that’s been there for around 10 years and there are others like that.”

The future DMRB will introduce NAAs to enable modification and adaptations of the documents by the devolved administrations or Highways England itself. Each overseeing organisation will be responsible for producing its own NAA to be incorporated into the DMRB.

IANs and equivalents produced by devolved administrations will be included in the NAA. Mr Khojinian suggested IANs could only be published for safety critical or other urgent items.

Technical editors

The future DMRB will be written by technical editors and authors supported by technical specialists. This should help in the drive to get it published quickly with a consistent style.

‘We will still be the document owners and we will still work closely with the industry and technical experts but the documents will be like British Standards, they will be done by experts to provide consistency. I think we are moving in the right direction on this. We have already recruited a pavement technical editor and he will start with us in June and go straight to work on this.’

The future DMRB is also set to place responsibility for design justification with the supply chain designer. Advice will be provided in the DMRB to support professional decision-making.

Mr Khojinian said this was in the early stage and he had not been given a complete brief on this aspect of the update.

A new process is required to place responsibility for design with the supply chain designer and will require a design justification (similar to GD04 as applied to safety) for design, including performance of the system as a whole.

Engagement

Highways England hopes to engage with industry throughout the process and is already working with experts in the RSTA.

These RSTA members are currently working on geosynthetics, re-texturing and preservative standards.

The Highways England UK Pavement Liaison Group and the Highways England Pavement Efficiency Group are both platforms for the industry to engage on the DMRB reforms.

Mr Khojinian said: “We want to work with industry through these groups like an early engagement process. It is already delivering. We’ve updated HD 32 and HD 38 the concrete standards. They are published.

“This is a big challenge for paving in Highways England, but I think it would be great if industry saw this as a positive and came and helped us. So please come and help.”

Industry should not need to be asked twice.

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