Highways—ownership and creation
Highways—ownership and creation

The following Planning practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Highways—ownership and creation
  • Meaning of ‘highway’
  • Right of passage
  • Classes of highway
  • Ownership of highway
  • Non-publicly maintainable highways
  • Highway ownership cannot be abandoned or acquired by adverse possession
  • Creation of highways
  • Public path creation agreements
  • Public path creation orders
  • More...

Meaning of ‘highway’

In the broadest sense, a highway is a way (ie a defined route, such as a road, bridleway or footpath) over which the public have the right to pass and re-pass. The terms ‘highway’ and ‘public right of way’ are often used interchangeably, although the term ‘highway’ is more commonly used to describe the physical route rather than the right itself. For example, a way used by motor vehicles would usually be called a ‘highway’ rather than a ‘right of way’.

Right of passage

The legal consequence of a route being a highway is that the public have a right to pass and repass along the route. The public’s right to use a highway may be restricted according to the type of highway, eg footpaths and pavements (on-foot); bridleways (horseback), or vehicular roads (with or without vehicles).

Classes of highway

There are three main categories of highway:

  1. a carriageway, including a byway open to all traffic (for use on foot, horse, cycle, motorised and non-motorised vehicles)

  2. a bridleway (for use on foot, horse and cycle), and

  3. a footpath (for use on foot and mobility vehicles)

The definitive map also includes the category of restricted byways (for use on foot, horse, cycle, horse drawn vehicle or 'non-mechanically propelled vehicle'). See Practice Note: Public rights of way.

Ownership of highway

Several interests can exist in the same piece of highway land.

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