Unadopted Roads – rights and responsibilities


If an access road to a property is adopted by the Local Authority or Highways Agency they will have liability for its upkeep. But what if you want to purchase a house and the access road is unadopted?

When purchasing a property a purchaser will no doubt be keen to ensure that the road upon which they need to access the property is adopted by the Local Authority or the Highways Agency (“the Relevant Authority”).

This means that the “Relevant Authority” will usually manage and maintain the road and there should therefore be no liability on the property owners for such management or maintenance.

In 1972, a Department of Transport Survey found that there were then approximately 40,000 unadopted roads in England and Wales, making up some 4,000 miles of road. No later survey has been undertaken but the figure is thought to still be similar. In 2009 the Government estimated it would cost £3 billion to improve these roads to an adoptable standard.

Who is responsible for an unadopted road?

Whilst the law on the maintenance and adoption of private roads in England and Wales is highly complex, by definition, a private or unadopted road is one which is not maintainable at public expense and therefore the Relevant Authority is under no obligation to meet the cost for the management or maintenance of such road. The responsibility for these costs rests with the “frontagers”.

The frontagers are the owners of properties who front on to such roads and also those property owners whose properties adjoin the road. Even if a third party, such as a property company, own the road, the law says that it is the frontagers who hold the responsibility for the cost of the maintenance of a private or unadopted road.

There is provision in the current legislation for the Relevant Authority to either seek to adopt such unadopted or private roads and/or carry out maintenance to them which are “needed to obviate danger to traffic”. The cost of such adoption and/or works can be recovered by the Relevant Authority from the frontagers.

Rights of way

There is no automatic right of way to pass and repass over an unadopted or private road although this can be granted either within the legal title or by way of extra agreement between the property owner and road owner. Similarly, there is no general right to park in a private or unadopted road.

More information

Unadopted roads are more common an issue when purchasing a recently built or new build home. With many new building developments in Havering currently, such as St George’s Park, Hornchurch and the old Harold Wood Hospital site, it is always worth checking with trusted professionals about the status of the roads on such developments.

Should you have concerns as to whether the road your property fronts onto is adopted or whether you have the necessary legal rights to pass and re-pass over the road, please contact our Residential Property Team who will be able to provide you with advice and help establish your rights.This article was written by Anica Holderness , Associate in the Residential Property Team at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of April 2019.


Popular Insights

Footer bg

Would you like to know more?

For help and advice, talk to a member of our team. They can advise on the best options in your matter.

Call: 01708 229 444 Email us


Portfolio Builder

Select the legal services that you would like to download or add to the portfolio

Download    Add to portfolio   
Title Type CV Email

Remove All


Click here to share this shortlist.
(It will expire after 30 days.)