We advise clients by telephone and by email, by letter and (if it suits them) at our office here in Norfolk.

Ownership and Highways

All the Highways Authority owns in most cases is the right to surface and re-surface the highway – and perhaps to install drains below it. They own “the top two spits" - that is, the top two spadedepths – or however deep they need to dig down, to lay a reasonable running surface.  In some highways the Authority also owns the land underneath the tarmac. If they bought the land in order to build a road on it, they probably still own the subsoil. In other highways (think of farmers’ fields with footpaths across them), it is perfectly clear that the owner of the land on each side of the highway also owns the land beneath it. In urban areas, the people who own the properties on each side often also own the land underneath the highway - from their fence out to the middle of the road. It is in every case a question of fact. Somebody needs to look at the evidence and draw a correct conclusion.

Whoever owns the subsoil will usually find that gas companies, electricity companies, cable TV companies etc. all have rights to put their pipes and wires into that subsoil.

Who owns the sky above a highway?  Good question!  Nicholas Hancox says that the answer is surprisingly simple – in nearly every case, the person who owns the subsoil beneath a highway also owns the sky above it.  This does not entitle that owner to prevent birds, aeroplanes, rockets and the International Space Station from flying through.


Nicholas Hancox discusses these issues (but not the International Space Station) in his book "Highways Law and Practice" (Lexis Nexis 2002). His expertise is also available to clients. Contact us on 01493 754004 or send an email to enquiries@nicholashancox.co.uk.