Who is responsible for maintaining an unadopted road?
An “unadopted road” is simply a track or road which has not been adopted by a local authority and so the said authority has no responsibility to maintain it. Unadopted roads are fairly common in England and so it is not surprising that solicitors are often asked by concerned residents, whose properties adjoin such a road, “we need to repair the road, who has to pay?”.
The first point of call is to check ownership of the road on the Land Registry title or the original title deeds as the owner may need to be approached. If this is not clear, it is usually the case that a property adjoining an unadopted road will have been granted a right of way by the private owner. Rights of way are generally coupled with an obligation to cover a proportion of the costs of maintaining the road. It is sometimes the case, however, that ownership is unclear and no such right of way or obligation for maintenance exists.
According to the Highway Authority, when a road is private or unadopted, the “frontagers” are responsible for maintenance and repairs. “Fronting” is defined in the Highways Act 1980 as “adjoining” and so a property need not specifically front the road in order for the owners to be deemed responsible. As long as one of the boundaries adjoins the road, that is sufficient. It is the frontagers of the road and not the owner who is referred to in the legislation and so the Highways Authority may not even need to deal with the owner when dealing with issues of maintenance.
Furthermore, Section 230 of the 1980 Act empowers the ‘street works authority’ (i.e. the local authority) to order the frontagers to repair an unadopted or private road in the event that said repairs are needed to “obviate danger to traffic”.
Access and maintenance of an access are obviously important issues to consider when purchasing property and land and so you should check with your solicitor whether or not the property/land you are purchasing immediately adjoins a public road. If it adjoins a private or unadopted road, you need to ensure that you understand your and your neighbours’ obligations for maintenance.
Sam Read is a solicitor in the property department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Suffolk.