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Robert Dorritt Engineer
Last edited 21 Oct 2016

Highways in England and Wales


[edit] Introduction

In England and Wales, highways are governed by the Highways Act 1980. This sets out which bodies are highway authorities and what duties and powers they have. A duty is a function that the highway authority is required to carry out; a power is a function that it can choose to carry out if it wishes. The 1980 act is an updated version of previous Highways Acts that stretch back into the 19th century and beyond.

Highways law can be complicated. This article provides generalisations that cover most cases, but it is not exhaustive.

There is also a lot of other legislation that applies to specific aspects of highway operations and management that is not covered here. Examples include the various Road Traffic and Road Traffic Regulation Acts, and the Traffic Signs Regulations.

[edit] Highway Authorities

The highway authority is the body with the duty to maintain all highways maintainable at the public expense (see section 41 of the highways act) and to assert and protect the rights of the public (section 130).

The highway authorities are:

  • The Secretary of State for Transport – for motorways and trunk roads in England.
  • The appropriate county, unitary or metropolitan borough/district council in England.
  • The Welsh Assembly - for motorways and trunk roads in Wales.
  • The appropriate county or county borough council in Wales.
  • Transport for London – for all Greater London Authority roads.
  • The appropriate borough or City of London council in London.

The various local authorities usually have a department that deals with highways. Their individual websites should provide contact information. The Secretary of State delegates the highway authority function for motorways and major A roads to Highways England which in turn usually chooses to employ a contractor to carry out its functions. The Welsh Assembly also uses contractors (which may include local authorities) to carry out its functions. There are different contractors for different parts of the motorway and trunk road network in both England and Wales.

The term ‘highway’ covers all rights of way from a motorway to a public footpath across a field, and the highways act applies to them all.

[edit] Buildings related highways issues

Most buildings-related highways issues either require an agreement with, or a licence from, the highway authority. Issues requiring an agreement usually fall into one of the following categories:

Agreements are negotiated with the highway authority for each site on an individual basis and can take some time to arrange. Fees are charged and will vary with each site. The fee may include a commuted sum to provide for future maintenance.

Once a new highway has been adopted, the highway authority is required to maintain it in perpetuity at the public expense. For this reason, the highway authority will apply strict specification criteria to any new highway and will usually impose an inspection regime similar to that used by building control. Sampling of materials may also be required. The highway authority will normally only accept the finished highway once it is completely satisfied with its layout, facilities (such as drainage, street lighting, roads signs, etc) and the materials used. Many highway authorities provide information showing approved or preferred layouts and construction details for new highways built as part of developments.

Issues requiring a licence usually fall into one of the following categories:

  • Control of builders’ skips on the highway – section 139.
  • Control of scaffolding on the highway – section 169.
  • Requirement to erect hoardings – section 172.
  • Construction of vehicle crossings over footways or verges – section 184.
  • Use of temporary traffic signals - Road Traffic Act 1988 and the traffic signs regulations.

Licences are usually issued with standard conditions and can be obtained fairly quickly – often by completing an online form. Fees are also often standardised.

--Robert Dorritt 18:34, 18 September 2014 (BST)

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