Road classification in England

The classification of Britain’s roads dates back to the 1920s. Today England has several different road classifications. What is more, the responsibility for classifying most of the roads has been decentralised. As the UK Department for Transport (DfT) said in a 2012 publication (ref. 304), “From April 2012, central government will be handing over greater responsibility to local highway authorities for the management of the roads classification system”. Under the new approach, local authorities “will manage all local classification and PRN decisions”. And as the examples below show, it seems that the local authorities have different ideas on how to classify roads.

We can begin by saying that there are nationally important road networks and road networks defined by local authorities.

Nationally important road networks

There are three types or networks:

  • The Euroroute network
  • The Strategic road network
  • The Primary road network


The roadsuk website (link) says:

“The idea behind the (international European Road Network), more commonly known as Euroroutes or E-Roads, was to provide a network of international strategic routes across Europe, which would be promoted for trans-European journeys – particularly those made for business or freight purposes”.

 And that

“Euroroutes are not signposted at all in the UK; the reason for this is believed to be principally due to the lack of cross-border routes and the small number of E-roads present”.

Strategic Road Network (SRN)

The UK Department for Transport (ref. 304) says that the Strategic Road Network consists of

  1. nationally significant roads used for the distribution of goods and services, and
  2. a network for the travelling public, and
  3. Trunk roads.

(own numbering)

Reason (1) is ok, reason (2) seems vague and reason (3) is not a reason but an alternative term (the DfT document also says that “any road on the SRN is known as a trunk road”).

Primary Road Network (PRN)

The DfT says these are “roads used for transport on a regional or county level, or for feeding in to the SRN for longer journeys”

 National road classification

The DfT document (ref. 304) has notes on terminology of the official road types. From these the following classification appears:

  1. Class A roads – highest class of classified road
  2. Class B roads – second tier in the classified road system
  3. Classified un-numbered roads –
  4. Unclassified roads

(again, own numbering)

 All the roads in classes (2 to 4) above are secondary roads. The terms “Class C road” and “Class D road” are no longer to be displayed. This gives the following general classification for roads in England:

England 01

Local authority classifications

The DfT (ref. 304) says that greater authority for classification was to be handed over to local authorities in 2012. However Lancashire County Council (for example) set out its strategy for a functional road hierarchy as long ago as 2002 (ref. 306), in a document which seems to be still current and which can be downloaded from the County Council website.  The document has an interesting reference to a hierarchy of different users (ref. 306 page 5):

  • Pedestrians including mobility impaired
  • Emergency vehicles
  • Cyclists
  • Public transport, including community transport and taxis
  • Delivery vehicles
  • Cars

However not all these user categories appear in the County Council’s Road hierarchy.

Hampshire County Council has a road network hierarchy for highway maintenance, briefly and clearly described here (link). This County Council web page says that “these maintenance designations are not directly matched to the existing network classifications such as A B C class roads” – basically because they are used for a different purpose.

Hampshire County Council too has an interesting reference, this time to a footway classification which it says is based on the LAA code of good practice. Hampshire CC’s footway classification is:

1a prestige
1   primary walking
2   secondary walking
3   link footways
4   local access

London’s Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea has a document which describes its “Transport and streetscape policies” (ref. 307) which can be downloaded from the Royal Borough’s website. The document refers to three different road classifications (page 14)

  • Roads which are part of the Transport for London Road Network ((TLRN) – and those which are not
  • A classification into A roads, B roads, C roads and unclassified
  • Its own two-level hierarchy of major and minor roads. Each level has two sub-levels

England 02

Other classifications

Hampshire County Council’s website refers to these national road classifications:

  • New roads and streetworks act reinstatement classification
  • Highway maintenance network hierarchy based on LAA code of good practice
  • Footway classification based on the LAA code of good practice

The County Council also refers to a national classification which includes C class roads; from the DfT document (ref. 304) it seems this classification may no longer be valid.


Each of the local authority documents referred to above has some interesting ideas. Lancashire County Council’s user categories is at least an indirect appreciation that there are different networks for different users. Hampshire County Council’s pedestrian route footway classification is an appreciation that different user networks have different levels / different classes of road (footway). The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea has a shallow road hierarchy, each with just two sub-levels.

What seems to be missing, at least from the documents referred to above, is that we should be looking at an area’s roads in terms of

  1. The road system
  2. The road networks within a road system (pedestrian, car, HGV etc)
  3. Functional road classification within a road network

Hampshire County Council sensibly explains that its maintenance designations are not directly matched to the existing network classifications because they are used for a different purpose. There is nothing essentially wrong with having many road hierarchies or classifications in a country, where each serves a different purpose – although users would probably need a spatial information system  to see where the different hierarchies overlap on a particular link. However it is not so clear that different local authorities in the country should define different road hierarchies for the same purpose. Maybe England’s Local Government Association or the County Councils Network could have an open discussion on the topic.


304 – Department for Transport, “Guidance on Road Classification and Primary Route Network” (January 2012)

306 – Lancashire County Council, “Functional road hierarchy strategy” (October 2002, still currently downloadable from the Council website)

307 – RB Kensington & Chelsea, “Transport and streetscape policy”  (downloaded from the Borough website February 2012, date ?)


About roadnotes

Robert Bartlett is an international consultant with over 30 years of professional experience as a highway and traffic engineer with leading companies and organisations in several countries, including Germany, China (Hong Kong), Qatar and the UK. Specialised in urban studies, transport and the use of GIS, research has included new ideas on subjects such as the study of social justice using GIS, the dimensions of vehicles, and comparative geometrics (highways and transport).
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