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Excavating the highway

If you are planning work which involves excavating the public highway, you must apply for a licence. The public highway includes the carriageway, footway, verges, bridleways and footpaths. If you are not sure who owns the land contact the Land Charges team on 01392 382295 or email


There are two types of private excavations on a public highway.

1. Excavations for apparatus works

This covers:

  • installing any new private apparatus
  • works to any existing private apparatus
  • excavating a trench for a utility company to place an apparatus.

Apparatus is:

  • a piece of equipment used for a particular purpose, for example water pipes, cables and sewer pipes
  • any piece of equipment used to lodge another piece of apparatus, such as a duct laid for a cable
  • a piece of equipment placed to gain access to another piece of apparatus, for example a manhole or inspection chamber.

Under Section 50 of The New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 a licence is needed for any apparatus:

  • placed under the highway surface – excavation works, boring and tunnelling
    on the highway surface – such as an inspection box
  • over the highway – such as telephone wires
  • works to apparatus that require no excavation – such as a manhole inspection or placing an ATC for a traffic survey.

Find out more about applying for apparatus works.


2. Non-apparatus excavations
If you need to excavate the public highway for works which don’t involve apparatus and are not covered under a Section 38 or Section 278 Agreement you will need a licence under Section 171 of the Highway Act 1980.

This would be for:

  • excavating a trial hole
  • excavation to repair a wall.

To apply for a Section 171 licence email and we will get back to you.


2a. Vehicle crossing or dropped kerb
To create a vehicle crossing or a dropped kerb, you will need a licence under Section 184 of the Highways Act 1980.

Find out more about applying for a dropped kerb or vehicle crossing.