Who Maintains the UK’s Highway System

Who maintains the UK’s highway system and who controls them for design, building, repair?

In England, trunk roads and motorways are under the control of the Highways Agency, an agency working for the UK central government.

Other roads are under the control of the relevant highway authority (a county or unitary council).

In Wales, TransportWales is in charge of Motorways and Trunk roads, similar to the Highways Agency in England, while in Scotland the equivalent is Transport Scotland (an agency of the Scottish Executive, accountable to the Scottish Parliament).

In Northern Ireland, all roads are under the control of the Roads Service of Northern Ireland.

Design and Building have to be approved by the relevant Government departments. These activities are usually controlled by the agency responsible for the road, but are generally subcontracted to specialist engineering and construction companies.

Twenty years ago, Maintenance and repair would typically be carried out by staff who work directly for the relevant authorities. Today however, many of the staff engaged in maintenance work, are likely to be subcontracted.

The extent of subcontracting varies from authority to authority. At one extreme, a highway authority might have its own internal direct service organisation complete with managers and workmen implementing repair work on site.

Most authorities have a number of employees who manage several contracts (e.g. covering street lighting, bridges, road maintenance etc). These contracts are generally given to private sector providers.

Finally, there are a small number of authorities who have subcontracted the whole service to the private sector. The local authority uses a small number of its employees to act as the client, while large numbers of staff (managed by a private sector company) plan and deliver the maintenance work.




Basil Jackson

Basil Jackson

Managing Director at Vemco Consulting
VEMCO was established in 2012 by Basil Jackson, a chartered civil engineer with more than 20 years’ experience in local government. Designations: BEng, MSc(Eng), CEng, MICE, DMS Managing Director, Vemco Consulting
Basil Jackson


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