Frequently Asked Questions about Highway Law
1 What is a public highway?
It is a way that all members of the public have a right of passage over. A vehicular highway consists of a carriageway, footways (if any) and verges. Norfolk County Council is the Highways Authority and responsible for all the county's roads (except the trunk roads - A11, A47 and A12)
2 Is there a standard width of verge?
No, the width of the highway verge varies greatly. It can be as wide as 30 metres or more…
or there may be no verge at all
3 Is there a map or list of Norfolk's public highways?
Norfolk County Council maintains two sets of records:
A list of roads maintained at the public expense (public highways)
A Definitive Map and statements that record Public Rights of Way.
4 Can I see the map showing the highway boundaries?
There is no single document. Records of highway boundaries are held in different ways, including the Council's digital system and on microfiche (photographs of documents). If we get an enquiry about highway boundaries,
we will try to confirm the extent of the boundary. This process can take anything from a few minutes to many months, if detailed investigations are needed. We can send you a plan for your property once the boundary has been confirmed, but there may be a charge to cover our costs.
5 The road I live on does not appear on the Definitive Map, so is it private?
The Definitive Map shows Public Rights of Ways only. These are byways open to all traffic (including roads that are not used much by vehicle traffic), bridleways and footpaths.
6 My deeds show that I own the land you say is highway. Does this mean it isn’t highway?
As the Highway Authority, we rarely own the land which the highway runs over. Most people own the land up to the middle of their road, but don‟t
realise it is only the subsoil that they own and the control of the land and its surface lies with the Highways Authority.
The plan below helps to explain this
The adopted highway is shown hatched green on this plan. The dotted area is land shown in the householder‟s deeds as being in their ownership. As you‟ll see, there is an overlap of the two. Not only is this possible, but is often the case. The highway rights exist over subsoil not owned by the Highway Authority.
7 The Land Registry shows my boundary as being included within the verge. Does this mean it is my land?
Yes – there are many cases where land that forms part of the highway has been registered in the past to the adjacent landowner. However, it is also
highway. Nowadays, we are often consulted by Land Registry on applications and we do object to any land being registered that is highway. This helps to make sure that the public is better informed about the status of the land. Some highway land may still be registered to landowners, but this does not alter its status as highway.
8 So even if I own the land, it is registered and I have maintained it for years, I still can’t do what I want with it?
That‟s correct. “Once a highway – always a highway” is the legal rule. A
Licence to Cultivate the Highway can often be granted that will allow you to cut and maintain the verge. In some cases, you can even grow plants –
subject to restrictions to protect access for highway users. Please contact us for further information.
9 What if I have already maintained the verge, mow the grass etc? What if I have fenced it off and used it as my own?
This does not make it yours. It is sometimes possible to gain rights over private land by actions over a number of years, but you cannot remove public highway rights in this way, no matter how long you do them for. A wall or fence may have been in place for decades, perhaps before you moved into the property, but the highway rights still exist.
10 You have told me I am encroaching on to the highway, but why aren’t you doing anything about other encroachments I have seen?
We don't have enough resources to deal with all encroachments and we have to give priority to cases that are dangerous, or where complaints have been received about an encroachment that is causing a particular problem.
11 I’m not allowed to place objects within the highway, so why are electricity poles and other such equipment permitted?
Utility companies, for example for water and electricity, have a right to put their equipment on the highway. Under the New Roads and Street Works Act, they also have the power to dig up roads to install and maintain equipment.
12 Do I have any responsibilities if I have trees near the highway?
If you have trees or hedges within your property, you must make sure they do not overhang or encroach on the highway in a way that causes problems for other highway users.
To the left is an example of what should not happen. This impedes highway users, particularly the blind.
13 If the public does not use a highway anymore, is it still highway?
“Once a highway – always a highway” is the legal rule. Highway rights remain
unless a formal legal process is used to remove highway status. Even if the highway has not been used as a highway for 50 years or more, the rights still
Were there any questions and answers that were unclear? If so, please use the „contact us‟ facility on this web site and we will do our best to clarify.