Special Roads

What Special Roads are there?

OK, so you've mentioned the Severn and Wye Bridges. Now what?

To answer that question, I wrote to five of the largest Highways Authorities in the United Kingdom under the relevant Freedom of Information act: the four national bodies (Highways Agency, Transport Scotland, Roads Service Northern Ireland and Transport Wales), and Transport for London. The questions were simple enough: What non-motorway Special Roads are you responsible for, and why were they created as Special Roads, rather than motorways or all-purpose roads.

As you might expect, the responses were very different from each authority.

Get on with it then!

I'll start with the best first, just because I can. The Northern Ireland Roads Service responded promptly to my request, and named their only non-motorway Special Road. More surprising than that, it was actually the one I expected them to name: the A12 Westlink in Belfast.

The A12 Westlink is designated a special road which may be used by all classes of traffic except pedestrians and cyclists. The inspector who conducted the Public Enquiry into the proposed Westlink designated the maximum width of roadway, which did not leave sufficient room for the provision of footways or hardshoulders, through the depressed section of the Westlink. In order to accommodate local access for slow moving vehicles in the urban area, all other classes of traffic may use the Westlink.

Dead good, eh? I was impressed with the NIRS.


I got the next response from the authorities in Wales. They failed to name the footpath along the Severn and Wye Bridges as being Special, but we'll forgive them that. Rather more entertainingly, they forgot about the M48 in its entirety, and misnamed the A48(M) as the M48...

The section of the A55 between Llanddulas and Conwy Morfa and the associated slip roads was progressed as a Special Road as a result of negotiations with the Railway Authorities and the requirement to realign the railway. It was built to All-purpose trunk road standards and hence it would not be appropriate to sign it as a motorway.

Again, we'll forgive them about the fact that there are actually two sections of the A55 that are Special, though they are right next to one another.

Scotland's got to be next, right?

After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, Transport Scotland were also helpful.

All motorways are special roads by definition. There are however, two non-motorway Special Roads which are the responsibility of Scottish Ministers. The A720 Edinburgh City Bypass which became a trunk road in 1996 having previously been the responsibility of the then Lothian Regional Council. The "Special Road" section of the A1 extends from the Edinburgh City Bypass (special road) termination at Old Craighall to the roundabout at Thistly Cross (Dunbar). Between Thistly Cross and the National Border, the road is of a different character with less traffic using it and less in the way of parallel road network to accommodate traffic which would otherwise be excluded from a special road. The junctions are at grade and there are several side road connections making it impossible to impose the restrictions that Special Road status would require.

Oddly, from other paperwork they mention, the A720 doesn't appear to be Special between the A8 and M8 - though that section is the responsibility of Edinburgh City Council, not Transport Scotland. They also later mentioned that the A87 Skye Bridge between its junction with Main Street in Kyle of Lochalsh to the roundabout west of Kyleakin is also a Special Road.

They do, however, get extra PM points for adding that two proposed improvements to the A90 are planned to be Special Roads: the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route between Charleston and Blackdog and the Fastlink between Stonehaven and the AWPR. Nice one, Transport Scotland.

However, they lose some of those PM points for failing to mention that a section of the A80 from Old Inns to Haggs that's being replaced by M80 is Special, though as one disappears another is due to appear: the planned improvements to M74 junction 5 will create a Special section of A725 underneath the roundabout, which if you ask me, is just plain weird.

It also appears that some of the roads at the new Forth Replacement Crossing will be Special between the crossing itself (which will be a motorway) and the M9 spur; allowing Class IV traffic as well as motorway traffic.

What about England's Highways Agency?

As usual, the Highways Agency are useless at answering queries. Whilst they do at least understand the concept of a non-motorway Special Road, they claim that they hold no records whatsoever as to whether there are any on the English Trunk network. They entirely failed to come up with the Severn Bridge, and indeed failed to come up with anything more useful than suggesting that SABRE might know. Any actual looking was just too difficult and that as thinking was expensive, they didn't have to bother doing that.

Which, given that the other national bodies managed to come up with a list, is a poor showing. If taken literally, the Highways Agency don't actually know the legal status of their road network, and there's all sorts of legal minefields there - even down to the whole allowing utility companies access to the road.

They weren't the worst, though.

Oh gosh. Transport for London.

Yes. As a regional body, you'd think they might know. However, their public persona of being only interested in buses, the Underground and the DLR seems to have some basis in reality. They clearly did not understand what a Special Road was, even when the term applied to motorways. Even when distilled down to a simple explanation of a Special Road, and pointing them generally at the former London motorways and the A12, some sections of which have "NO" signs similar to other Special Roads, they gave a rambling reply that they clearly hoped would be enough to let them off the hook. It was amazingly long, and whilst all of the words were in English, none of the paragraphs actually made sense.

In fact, it's so stunningly senseless that I'm going to quote part of it.

With regard to the A102(M), its motorway status had seemingly already been removed prior to it becoming a GLA road, because the Designation Order refers to it specifically as the road formerly known as the A102(M). So while section 14A(2)(b) – referred to above - would have removed the Trunk Road status as it became a GLA road, we believe there must have been something prior to that relating to removal of the motorway status. This was because when research went into putting together the Transport for London trunk road network there were already issues concerning removing learner drivers, cycles / motorcycles off of this stretch of road. The fact that ‘(M)’ existed after the ‘A102’ is immaterial, as the road had never formed part of the motorway network , and therefore it did not need reclassifying as it is an ‘A’ road.

Section 14A of the Highways Act 1980 provides that when a road is designated as a GLA Road by the Secretary of State, "if it is a trunk road or other highway for which the Secretary of State is the highway authority, shall accordingly cease to be such a road or highway." If the A102 had still been a motorway (special road) at the time of the GLA Roads Designation Order 2000, the effect of section 14A is that when it became a GLA Road it would have ceased to be a motorway.

And I say again: "huh???" If that makes sense to anyone else out there, please get in touch. Someone really ought to tell TfL that any road that has (M) after the number is a motorway, and not an 'A' road.

So, we have no idea whether there are any Special Roads in England then?

Well, we know of two. One is, of course, the Severn Bridge whilst the other is a little more unusual. It's a section of Manchester's A57(M) Mancunian Way - in fact it's this little section of sliproad here, as well as the matching one on the other side.

Why is that section not a motorway? It's coloured in blue on my map.

It's simple, really. Manchester City Council wanted to install a pedestrian crossing on the sliproad to enable better access from Hulme to the City Centre. So, they did the clever thing, and simply added that "Class IX traffic" (or pedestrians, to you and me) are allowed on that section of the Special Road, ergo no motorway. One pedestrian crossing later, the "chopsticks" start of motorway sign is now located beyond the crossing at the correct place for the start of the motorway restrictions. There are, however, no signs showing the restrictions in force at the bottom of the sliproad so it is possible to get onto the Special Road section whilst, say, riding a moped of under 50cc and be completely unaware until you reach the motorway start sign that you can't go up there, and also that you shouldn't have been on the sliproad in the first place...

If you're really dull, you can even go and look up the documentation for yourself. It goes by the snappy title of "The Manchester City Council (Mancunian Way) Special Road Scheme 1968 Variation Scheme 2005 Confirmation Instrument 2006". There's maps and everything...

Hang on a minute, what about all the other roads with "NO" signs on them in England? Aren't they Special Roads?

Not necessarily, no. There's actually quite a number of all-purpose roads with "NO" signage on them, such as parts of the A12 in East London, the A505 near Baldock and the A27 near Brighton. In all cases, there isn't the relevant documentation available to show that they are Special (and indeed there is other documentation which tends to confirm that they're not), and the use of the National Speed Limit roundel also rules them out - remember that there is no such thing as NSL on non-motorway Special Roads.

OK, so tell me which roads are Special Roads again.

  • A55 near Colwyn Bay, north Wales
  • footpath alongside M48 Severn and Wye Bridges
  • A720 Edinburgh City Bypass
  • A1 east of Edinburgh
  • A57 Mancunian Way sliproads from Princess Road
  • A12 Westlink, Belfast
  • A87 Skye Bridge
  • A90 Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route and associated link roads
  • A80 Old Hill - Stepps (to be replaced by M80)
  • A725 underneath M74 J6
  • Forth Replacement Crossing link roads

If anyone knows of any more, then let us know!

Special Roads



The Special Roads Act

What Special Roads are there?

See Also:

The Special Roads Act (PDF)