Highway drains and culverts
Produced in partnership with John Bates of Old Square Chambers
Highway drains and culverts

The following Environment guidance note Produced in partnership with John Bates of Old Square Chambers provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Highway drains and culverts
  • Ownership of highway drains
  • Construction of highway drains
  • Obstruction of highway drains
  • Agreements to use public sewers
  • Maintenance of highway drains
  • Discharges from highway drains

For the purposes of s 100 of the Highways Act 1980, a ‘highway drain’ is defined as including a ditch, gutter, watercourse, soak-away, bridge, culvert, tunnel or pipe. However, to be such a drain it must have been constructed for the purpose of carrying away surface water from a road.

A ‘highway drain’ will not be a sewer as it is not used for the drainage of buildings and yards but it may become one if its functions include the drainage of such premises. The key question to ask when there is a dispute as to the nature of such a pipe is: ‘for what purpose was the pipe laid?’

The same is the case where there is a dispute as to whether a drain is a land drain or a highway drain. The issue will be resolved by considering whether, in the light of all the facts, the function of the drain is to drain a highway or is to drain agricultural land.

Where a ditch adjoins a highway the presumption is that it does not form part of the highway but belongs to the neighbouring landowner. The presumption can be rebutted on evidence that the land on which the ditch is situated was dedicated as part of the highway.

Ownership of highway drains

Usually drains belonging to roads for which a