Skip to content

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.

Report a highway retaining wall that is a threat to public safety >

Property retaining walls

The responsibility for the maintenance of retaining walls which support property adjacent to the highway (‘property retaining walls’) generally lies with the owner of the property who derives benefit from the support. Under certain circumstances where a wall has been built as part of the highway it is maintained by us unless built as accommodation works for the adjoining landowner.

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, normally the district council, to deal with buildings, structures or parts of buildings or structures that are considered to be dangerous.

Bridges and structures

Devon has over 3500 bridges; those associated with the public highway are regularly inspected to ensure they are safe for the public to use.  A general inspection is undertaken on each bridge on a 2 yearly basis with some of the complicated structures having a more detailed inspection carried out 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. This is further complicated by incidents such as accident damage which may render a structure unsafe to the road user and warrant urgent repairs. Typically, Devon suffers accidental damage to around 150 bridges each year.

Ancient/Listed bridges

Within Devon there are 384 bridges that are 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. Our policy is to remove offensive graffiti from bridges and highway structures as soon as possible within 28 days, other reports are prioritised based on available resources. 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.