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Maintaining roads

Retaining walls and bridges

Retaining walls - image illustrating a highway retaining wall and a property retaining wall

Highway retaining walls

Most retaining walls, which directly support the highway or support land carrying the highway (‘highway retaining walls’) and are within the highway boundary, are maintained by us.

Occasionally such retaining walls have been built by adjoining landowners to create a more level site and so afford more useable space, for example, for a mill. These are generally owned by and should be maintained by, the landowner.

Whilst this cannot be insisted upon by the Highway Authority, unless covered by an agreement, the highway does have a right of support under common law and this can be used if the wall starts to collapse.

Property retaining walls

The responsibility for the maintenance of retaining walls that support property adjacent to the highway (‘property retaining walls’) generally lies with the owner of the property who derives benefit from the support. A wall built as part of the highway is maintained by us unless it forms part of the adjoining landowners accommodation.

If you wish to report a property retaining wall that is a threat to public safety use the GOV.UK postcode search which will direct you to the appropriate local authority. However, if there is an immediate risk to the public please contact us as well.

You can find out more about the primary legislation relating to dangerous defects in these walls in Section 77 and Section 78 of the Building Act 1984. The Act gives powers to the local authority to deal with buildings and structures that are dangerous.

Bridges and structures

Devon has over 3500 bridges which we regularly inspect to ensure they are safe for the public to use.  We undertake an inspection on each bridge every 2 years with some of the complicated structures receiving a more detailed inspection every 6 years.

Any repairs, strengthening or works identified are fed into an annual programme and carried out on a priority basis as funds allow. Remedial work to a bridge that is structurally unsound on a more minor road may take priority over routine maintenance on one along a principal route.

Incidents, such as accident damage which can render a structure unsafe to the road user and warrant urgent repairs can cause further complications. Typically, Devon suffers accidental damage to around 150 bridges each year.

Ancient or listed bridges

Devon has 384 bridges classed as an ancient monument or listed building. Maintenance work on these structures needs careful consideration to ensure that the materials used are appropriate to their status.

Devon County Council keeps a small supply of stone and bricks for this purpose and encourages the recycling of suitable materials from the demolition of local buildings.


In general, we have a policy to remove unauthorised graffiti from the highway in accordance with Section 132 of the Highways Act. We will remove offensive graffiti from bridges and highway structures as soon as possible, within 28 days.

The district council can issue a notice or take proceedings under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 for the owner of a surface to remove graffiti.

We are responsible for the majority of highway structures, however, railway bridges are the responsibility of Network Rail.