Responsibility for upgrades, maintenance and repairs on UK motorways, roads and residential streets is split between National Highways, local city, county and borough councils, and private homeowners.
An adopted road falls under the council’s remit, and any deviations, potholes or other issues should be reported to the appropriate highways or transport department. Unadopted roads, typically those on smaller routes or in semi-rural and rural areas, are down to the owner to manage – unless they subsequently become adopted by the relevant council.
The easiest way to check whether your road is adopted is to check the public records at the nearest highway authority. Some will publish maps of the area, with colour-coding to designate adopted roads, and others will provide lists or databases where you can search by road name or postcode.
The primary factor in road adoption is the cost of repairs since all road surfaces, at some point, will require maintenance or preventative treatments to stop older surfacing from deteriorating in poor weather conditions.
Whoever is responsible for road upkeep is also normally tasked with other duties, such as:
Although most unadopted roads are well maintained by local businesses and residents, who often contribute small amounts each year to cover repairs, others can fall into serious disrepair, without lighting, poor drainage allowing surface water to pool and cause flooding, and either uneven and potholed surfacing, or no surfacing at all.
Any business or homeowner looking to repair a section of road, add a dropped kerb or otherwise modify the pavement, driveway or access to a highway adopted by the council will need express permission.
Unadopted roads belong to the homeowner, typically with each property deemed responsible for the defined section immediately in front of their home and to the centre of the road. However, this can vary depending on the title deeds.
Another approach is for all businesses and residents on the road to share costs equally, regardless of whether the whole street needs resurfacing or an isolated pothole has appeared in one area.
You can carry out your own repairs to an unadopted road through your contractor of choice but likewise cannot rely on your council to fill in potholes, mend damaged speed bumps or replace outdated drainage systems.
While an unadopted road means that the owners must cover the costs of repairs, this does not affect the public right of way.
The Highways Act 1980 sets out the legal responsibilities associated with unadopted roads, which indicate that any building with a wall or boundary that adjoins an unadopted street can be considered responsible for its condition – even if the border is a side return or rear aspect.
Homeowners can exercise a certain amount of discretion in the work they carry out and finance, and they are not obligated to maintain a road to the standards of a major A-road since unadopted roads do not tend to be through-routes, nor will they be roads that are expected to cope with significant volumes of traffic.
That said, every person living or owning a commercial premise on an unadopted road has a duty to remove dangers to traffic, which could mean repairing serious cracks or potholes that might cause a collision, removing overgrowth from pavements, and ensuring the road is accessible to people and vehicles.
Public liability insurance is essential since any issues that occur on the road, where they fall under the responsibility of the homeowner or business, could give rise to a claim against them where the roadway has not been maintained and has contributed to an accident or injury.
Many unadopted roads have neighbourhood associations or residential groups who deal with the road maintenance – normally with a set value each member is expected to contribute each year, with pooled funds used to pay for the road.
Residents or local businesses can decide whether they’d like one person to request quotations for repair work, consult with highway engineers to recommend the right resurfacing or repair options, or will collectively gather quotes and select their preferred contractor.
The best strategy is to make periodic repairs where necessary and invest in preventative maintenance since a small problem can rapidly become serious, such as major potholes, significant flooding or blocked drains.
If you would like to explore the potential for a road to be adopted, you will need to consult your local council. Many people find that councils charge substantial amounts to take over permanent responsibility, often as much as £1,000 for every metre of frontage or a smaller but ongoing charge over an extended period.
However, some councils may not levy a large charge but will only consider adopting a road if the surfacing and drainage are already in good condition. Otherwise, the council may carry out these repairs and expect the residents to cover the cost.
Councils will often put criteria in place before they agree to adopt a road, such as:
Where residents or businesses do not wish to maintain a road and would like to apply to the council for adoption, upgrading or restoring the surfacing and carrying out other repair work is highly advisable as this work is commonly more cost-effective when organised directly with a contractor, and may reduce the cost contributions the council commands.
In new build construction, a lot depends on the developer and the agreements made with the local council. Usually, the road becomes officially adopted once the building work is complete and the road is open to traffic.
Councils tend to take over responsibility after a fixed, pre-agreed period but may expect the developer or housebuilder to maintain the road for a certain number of months, incentivising the developer to hire a skilled, qualified highway engineering team to ensure the road is of good quality and designed to last for years to come.
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