Highways in England and Wales
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.
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.
- Adoption of new highways built as part of a development – section 38 agreements.
- Changes to existing highways at the cost of the developer – section 278 agreements.
- Stopping up or diversion of highways (including footways, bridleways or restricted byways) – section 116 agreements.
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)
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Community Infrastructure Levy.
- Cycling and walking plan.
- Highways England.
- Manual of Contract Documents for Highway Works.
- Planning condition.
- Planning obligation (Section 106 Agreement).
- Planning permission.
- Reserved matters.
- Road traffic management.
- Section 38 agreement.
- Section 278 agreement.
- Transport design and health.
Featured articles and news
Have a look at our article explaining the different types of construction contractor.
Futurist Thomas Frey explores the concept of Disposable Housing - could it be a reality sooner than we imagine?
ICE to host new exhibition offering a window onto the civil engineering achievements beneath our feet.
Do you know all the various types of defects in brickwork?
US museum reveals plans for an installation made entirely of paper tubes.
Review of a book looking at how contemporary architecture found its expression within neoliberal capitalism.
The Great Mosque of Djenne, the largest mud-brick building in the world.
Amanda Clack, RICS President offers recommendations to government on Brexit and the construction skills shortage.
Tired of the commute? This architecture firm believes the best solution is to take cars underground.
Why do so many women leave engineering? Probably not for the reason you’re thinking.
For over 30 years David Trench was one of the UK's leading project managers. Read about his career through some of his most famous projects.
Leading institutes join forces calling for property flood resilience measures to help householders avoid repeat flooding.