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Highway boundaries

Highway boundaries

The public highway is an area that the public have a right to pass and repass. The highway includes the road-side verge and footways as well as the carriageway.

Highway Boundaries V5 Cr

The diagram shows a cross-section of an average road. The road is in the centre, with footways on both sides and a grass verge on the left. On the verge there is a traffic sign, on the right-hand footway there is a lamp post. There are properties and gardens on either side of the road, with examples of highway boundary features at the edges of the gardens. The highway boundary feature on the left is a hedge. The highway boundary feature on the right is a drainage ditch.

This example shows a straightforward scenario. Often the actual situation is unclear and requires research to establish the correct highway boundary extent.

The duty of Norfolk County Council, as the highway authority for Norfolk, is to maintain the roads and footways and most public rights of way and to safeguard highway rights on these routes.

Land ownership enquiries should be directed to Land Registry.


If you have a query about any of the following please email

  • Positioning a new fence, hedge or wall at the front of your property
  • Ownership of a ditch, tree or hedge that is between your property and the road
  • Whether your property abuts the highway
  • The road-side verge in front of your property
  • The width of public rights of way

Please attach a plan of the area you are interested in as this will speed up the process.

Note: The trunk roads (A11 and A47) that run through the county are the responsibility of National Highways, not Norfolk County Council.


Research to confirm the extent of the public highway for commercial use (at one location) costs £69.49 plus VAT for the first 50 metres of research.It costs a further £24.82 plus VAT for every additional 50 metres of research thereafter.

Please note: If both sides of a road or public right of way are required, the metreage quoted for will double. This is to account for the research required for both highway boundary lines that define the highway corridor.

General boundaries, legal boundaries and ad medium filum

Most boundaries drawn on HM Land Registry title plans are classed as general boundaries. They are not always the same as legal boundaries. The legal boundary is the boundary as defined when all relevant caselaw and legal presumptions have been applied. The legal boundary is the true boundary of your property, but may not match the general boundary drawn on your title plan.

There is no limit to the amount of land that can lie between the general boundary drawn on your title plan and the legal boundary that is the true boundary of your property. If any features, such as trees, hedges, and ditches, lie in this area the property owner will be responsible for maintaining them, even if this is outside of the boundary suggested by your title plan.

When trying to find the legal boundary of your property, you need to be aware of the most important legal presumption – ad medium filum (meaning ‘up to the middle line’ in Latin). This presumption states that the adjacent landowner to a highway route owns the land up to the middle of that route. If highway rights exist over the surface, the landowner is responsible for the subsoil and the highway authority is responsible for the surface. Land you own due to the ad medium filum presumption won’t usually be included on the title plans from HM Land Registry, as these plans do not show the legal boundary. 

For a more detailed explanation of the difference between Land Registry’s legal boundaries and general boundaries, along with information about how Land Registry produces their title plans, visit HM Land Registry’s Practice guide 40, supplement 3 (opens new window) and HM Land Registry’s Practice guide 40, supplement 5 (opens new window)

You can also contact HM Land Registry (opens new window).

Public highway rights on private land

Most public highway in England exists over land owned by a private individual or company rather than the relevant highway authority. There will be highway rights over the surface of this land.

For information on how highway rights can be removed, visit GOV.UK - apply to close or divert a highway.

For more information on the ‘ad medium filum’ presumption, visit GOV.UK – legal presumptions.

Highway boundary features

A highway boundary feature can be any feature that marks the boundary between land over which highway rights exist and land over which no highway rights exist.

Typical highway boundary features include:

  • Fences
  • Walls
  • Hedging
  • Trees
  • Drainage ditches
  • Faces of buildings or outbuildings

In the case of hedges and trees, the highway boundary is presumed to extend to the centre of the main trunks. In the case of drainage ditches, the highway boundary extends to the roadside edge of the ditch. The adjacent landowner is responsible for maintaining highway boundary features.

There are many factors that can affect where the highway boundary lies. Only the County Council's Highway Boundary Research Team has the research expertise and access to the full range of sources needed to define the highway boundary.

If you need to find out the legal position of the highway boundary on any public highway in Norfolk, contact the Highway Boundary Research Team at (opens new window) or call us on 0344 800 8020 and ask to speak to the Highway Boundary Research Team. Or you can visit contact us.

Our free mapping browser (opens new window) includes information on the roads, footways and cycleways maintained by the County Council.

What to do if you receive an encroachment letter

If you have received a letter informing you that an encroachment has been identified at your property, you should contact the relevant Area Maintenance Team via the County Council's Customer Service Centre. Call 0344 800 8020 or contact us

If you would like a breakdown of the historical research we have completed to define the highway boundary in your location, you can contact the Highway Boundary Research Team at or call us on 0344 800 8020 and ask to speak to the Highway Boundary Research Team. We can't comment on how severe the encroachment is, how it can be resolved, or anything that isn't directly related to our research. The Area Maintenance Team can help you with these questions.