On the road to good design


05 Jul 2022

On the road to good design

National Highways has been challenged to prioritise high-quality and sustainable design as it delivers the biggest investment in the strategic road network for a generation.

The government-owned company has been urged to ensure upgrades to motorways and major A-roads are sympathetic to their local surroundings while also prioritising safety, reliability and affordability.

National Highways’ first design vision, ‘The road to good design’, was published in 2018 using advice from the company’s Strategic Design Panel – an expert group.

Today National Highways has published follow-up guidance, ‘People, places and processes: A guide to good design at National Highways’.

This publication highlights a series of integrated principles to improve the design quality of the network. In addition to ensuring that designs reflect road users’ needs, it includes a focus on 'place', ensuring that design is restrained, environmentally sustainable and fits its surroundings. Good design is also collaborative, thorough and innovative to generate long-lasting benefits to users and the wider community, it says.

Addressing climate change is a thread which runs thought all design principles referenced in this publication. Good road design can help both minimise greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the climate and adapt to the actual or anticipated impacts of climate change to ensure future resilience, the guide says.

The guide makes dozens of tangible suggestions to project teams working on upgrades of the country’s busiest roads:

  • roads can help improve legibility with clues as to how to drive and what to expect ahead, adding that views of built-up areas, landmark buildings and structures and distinctive natural features can help drivers locate themselves, reducing reliance on directional signs
  • roadside clutter can be detrimental to the character of the environment and the safety of users. Over-provision of signage can result in information overload and should be designed out at an early stage
  • teams should consider the view from the road to help enhance the physical sensation of travel. Monotonous tunnel-like corridors with no varied views or interest should be avoided as they may increase driver fatigue
  • good road design should seek to reduce potential noise in the local area, with earth mounds and the choice of road surfaces being considered alongside changes in horizontal and vertical alignment
  • the severance of natural systems should be avoided, especially when crossing waterways to protect animal and plant life, adding that this can be achieved through crossing points or 'green bridges' that fit with natural patterns and feature local native planting
  • historic buildings and landscapes should be incorporated into designs, with access to sites being considered at an early stage
  • boundaries by the side of roads should respond to the local character of an area, with opportunities taken to incorporate walking and cycling paths and to plant local native vegetation

The design guide is one of three documents published by National Highways today.

A second report, ‘On the road to good design: Design review at National Highways', provides an independent overview of the design and construction of roads over a four-year period following the initial launch of the Strategic Design Panel. It is based on the findings of dedicated design reviews set up to consider individual road schemes and standards in more depth.

The report says that the extra scrutiny supplied by the process has helped schemes “deliver positive impacts for local communities and better environmental outcomes”, as well as ensuring National Highways shares best practice and works efficiently.

A third document, ‘Learning on the road to good design: Case studies’, captures examples from the UK and abroad highlighting the value and wider benefits of good design. Learning from best practice is a key principle of good design.

Mike Wilson, National Highways’ Chief Highways Engineer said:  

“National Highways is a recognised authority for road design, building and maintenance, and our standards are used across the globe.  

“Our aspiration is to deliver roads which not only serve their purpose, but are also each examples of excellence, and which are aesthetically pleasing. To achieve this will require a shift in design culture within both National Highways and the wider roads sector.  

“The purpose of these publications is to challenge thinking about the design and demonstrate how National Highways is meeting its licence requirements in respect to good design and its leading role promoting good design amongst infrastructure providers. 

“I have great confidence that in meeting our challenge we will deliver safer, better, beautiful roads which connect people and connect our country. Because we believe a connected country is better for everyone.

“I look forward to seeing the results of improved design on the ground as schemes reviewed to date are constructed and design review is applied more widely.” 

Edward Hobson, Director of Place at the Design Council, said:

“I’m heartened by National Highways continued commitment to good design with today’s publications. All three demonstrate the importance and value of good design to people, places and the planet.

“The Design Council is pleased to have facilitated the independent design reviews for National Highways which are reported on today. The report demonstrates the value of applying multi-disciplinary thinking and insight from best practice across major infrastructure projects to the review of highway schemes.

“We look forward to continuing to work with National Highways to help ensure that England’s busiest roads are of the highest design quality and leave a positive legacy for our built and natural environment.”

Sadie Morgan, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission’s Design Group, said:

“It’s really encouraging to see National Highways make such an explicit statement of the importance of good design at the heart of their work. Infrastructure has the power to connect communities, boost growth and enhance the environment, but only if it is well designed.

“Today’s publications should all help raise both quality and aspirations for what can be achieved, and it’s great to see National Highways complementing our own design principles with additional guidance and examples to embed this in their future work programme.”

 Jonathan Wade, Project Manager for M25J10/A3 Wisley interchange, said:

“The advice from design review was valuable in helping the Wisley interchange project team respond to the context and in shaping our final scheme proposals. The panel with its broad range of experts was a useful forum to review the balance of constraints and opportunities and to extend our ambitions for the scheme.

“We are now looking forward to starting works across the scheme in the autumn. This will include the construction of the Cockcrow green bridge, the inclusion of which was supported by the design review process.”

You can read all three documents on our Good design page.