British Roads

Who owns and runs the British roads?

The public own and run the roads. Roads exist for the use of the public and are maintained by various government bodies at public expense. Roads can be divided into two categories:

  • trunk roads –  Trunk roads are nationally important routes, maintained by the national highway authority of each country (the Highways Agency in England, for example)
  • non-trunk roads – All other public roads. Which are maintained by local authorities — usually a county or city council. For example the Northern Ireland Roads Service maintain all roads in Northern Ireland

How are the roads funded?

Central Government pays 100% of the maintenance costs for the trunk roads.

For roads maintained by local authorities, Central Government pays 50% of the costs for A-roads and 30% for B-roads, with the remaining cost met by the local authority itself. The local authority pays the entire cost of maintaining unclassified roads.




Roads Classification and Numbering

Classification refers to the allocation of numbers to British roads. Numbers are allocated on a national basis and within Great Britain each number is unique. Northern Ireland has its own system which exists entirely separately.

There are three tiers of classification in both GB and NI:

Motorways – grade-separated expressways and have 1, 2 or 3-digit numbers prefixed with ‘M’ or suffixed ‘(M)’

A-roads – major routes; A-rads vary from motorway-standard to narrow local roads, they have 1, 2, 3 or 4-digit numbers prefixed with ‘A’

B-roads – local routes and have 3 or 4-digit numbers prefixed with ‘B’


Directional signs on different classes of road use several distinct background colours to allow motorists to easily tell between different types of road and information.

– Blue signs – Blue signs with white borders and white text are found on motorways. The same colour scheme is occasionally used On non-motorway roads for signs bearing miscellaneous written information
– Green signs – Primary A-roads use green-backed signs, with white text and borders, and highlighted in gold route numbers.

– White signs – Signs with a white background, and black text and black borders are used on non-primary roads. White signs also exist with other colour combinations for example those with black text and red borders are used for directions to Ministry of Defence sites.

Devonshire County Council has a unique system to signpost its minor routes:
White signs with no border and all-capitals black text indicate the most minor routes suitable for local traffic
White signs with blue borders and mixed-case black text indicate roads suitable for general traffic
White signs with brown borders and mixed-case black text indicate roads suitable for light traffic

– Yellow signs – Yellow signs are temporary signs, such as diversion routes or direction signs through roadworks, they have yellow background with black text.

– Brown signs – Tourist attractions are signed with white text and borders on brown background signs.

– Black signs – Directions for Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) appear in white on black, usually with a pictogram of a lorry.


More information on the topic you can find here:

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