You are:

+ Share | Print page

England – Eastern

Regional Co-ordinator: Di Evans

England - Eastern

Interactive map



For the purpose of the motorway archive, the Eastern Region comprises mainly the seven counties, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk.

However, in the early years from the setting up of the Eastern Road Construction Unit in 1968, Oxfordshire was included and was involved with Buckinghamshire in the development of M40. The Eastern Regional Office was also responsible for the planning and publication of the length of the A14 M1 - A1 Link in Northamptonshire and for two major schemes in North East London, the A406 South Woodford - Barking Relief Road and the A12 Hackney - M11 Link Road, which took nearly a century to materialise.

The Home Counties of Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex and Hertfordshire could be described broadly as traditionally prosperous. They combine a wide range of industrial and commercial activity with their function as homes for commuting to the magnet of London. Nevertheless, they have a predominantly rural appearance, with 38 per cent of the area in Green Belt. The wide bank of chalk running in a southwest - northeast direction includes the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty.

The East Anglia counties of Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk have managed over many years to combine growth with retention of their essential rural character [Ref 4]. They have three areas of outstanding natural beauty, Dedham Vale, Suffolk Coast and Heaths, and the North Norfolk Coast. The Norfolk Broads, partly the result after flooding of major excavations of peat in the Fens, are a focus for tourism and conservation. The Nene and Ouse Washes Sites of Special Scientific Interest are designated for their unique bird life.

Cambridge has a high international reputation for innovation, as well as being a cultural and historic city. The region contains many other attractive and ancient communities including Norwich, Aylesbury, Bedford, Buckingham, Chelmsford, Ipswich, King's Lynn, St Albans and High Wycombe, and numerous market towns and picturesque villages. Towns such as Luton and Watford are established industrial centres. The region also has several new towns still growing, in order of age from Letchworth (the very first), Welwyn Garden City, Basildon, Harlow, Hemel Hempstead, Milton Keynes to Peterborough. With its long coastline, the region has many seaside resorts from Southend-on-Sea in the south east to Hunstanton in the north west.

The Eastern Region is well served by major ports, from north to south King's Lynn, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Felixstowe, Ipswich, Harwich and Tilbury. Two of its airports, Luton and Stansted, are being developed continuously to cater for major international air traffic. The Eastern Region is connected to London by Intercity and commuter electrified rail services, with stations Liverpool Street, Kings Cross, St Pancras and Euston and has rail connections to the north and west as well as a local rail network.

The Eastern Region continues to be the fastest growing in England. Forecasts for the region over the period 1976-2001 indicated a growth in population of 20% compared with a 3% increase in the rest of England and jobs were forecast to increase by 42% compared with 6% elsewhere. These factors result in a growth of road traffic in the region significantly higher than the national average.


The Eastern Region has a shallow mantle of glacial deposits over much of its area. These overlie solid strata consisting of a complex variety of overconsolidated clays (that is clay subjected to great pressures after its deposition, from the weight of glaciers above). The clays in the north west side of the region consist mainly of Gault, Ampthill and Kimmeridge, and Oxford Clays while the Clay in the south east side of the region is mostly London Clay. In the central south west to north east swathe of the region, the solid underlying stratum is mainly chalk.

The construction problems created by the complexity and inherent weaknesses of the strata in the region have required staff with specialist knowledge for the excavation of cuttings, placing of embankments and founding of structures for the new motorways and trunk roads. The Regional Geotechnical Engineer's section in Bedford held regular meetings with his geotechnical colleagues in other regions, so that the lessons learned in solving the geological problems in his region could be passed on quickly.

In the Luton neighbourhood the permeable upper chalk which is rock hard when dry was quickly reduced to a thick white paste with the consistency of wet soap and another trouble spot was the deep cutting at Gayhurst - here a belt of blue boulder clay was disclosed which was not only unstable but contained boulders so large that some of them had to be reduced by blasting". And these difficulties were overcome for 72 miles of the M1 built in only 19 months, followed by heavy lorries pounding safely on smooth surfaces over the treacherous and haphazard natural earth!

The Organisation of the Eastern Regional Office (Transport)

During the majority of the period of the implementation of the motorway programme, the road responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Transport were exercised by the Highways and Transport Group at London Headquarters. The responsibilities included the development and maintenance of the national motorway and trunk road network; assessing transport proposals submitted by other highway authorities; investment policy for national highways; their location; setting of standards for traffic appraisal; road and bridge design, construction and maintenance. It also supported local highway authorities in the improvement and management of their own networks by Transport Supplementary Grant and disseminated advice on policies for urban traffic. Responsibility for the practical application of the Department's policies and liaising with local authorities lay largely with the Regional Offices (Transport) within the framework of Government objectives.

The Eastern Regional Office of the Departments of the Environment and Transport at Bedford under their Directors (Transport) was one of seven, excluding London. In 1981 it combined the duties of the office of the Regional Controller (Roads and Transport) and the Director of the Road Construction Unit. It was responsible for the whole of these activities associated with highways in the seven counties Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk. As with the other Regional Offices (Transport) it was part of a wider regional organisation linking it with the Department of the Environment under a Regional Director who reported to the Ministers of both Departments.

The Regional Office (Transport) managed the national motorway and trunk road network with the help of the seven County Councils. It was responsible for the management and operation of the network, the first identification of the need for improvement schemes and their preparation and construction when they were included in the national programme. It provided information and advice from the Region to Ministers about its own part of the network and about local highway issues on the country networks relevant to government policies in that field. Additional responsibilities included receiving and evaluating Transport Policies and Programmes (TPP) submissions from local authorities in support of their bids for Transport Supplementary Grant towards the cost of nationally important road schemes, and advising the Secretary of State in the exercise of his quasijudicial role of confirming orders submitted by local highway authorities for their schemes.

There was no fixed structure for Regional Offices (Transport) and it was for the Director (Transport) to decide on the organisation which best suited the needs of the Region. In the 1980's, Eastern Regional Office (Transport) had about 200 professional civil and electrical engineers, quantity surveyors, landscape architects, administrators and support staff, reflecting the need for combination of engineering expertise and administrative and managerial skills in fulfilling the office's role. The staff were organised into a number of teams, some geographical and others with specific functions.

The majority of the staff were local government officers who had been appointed by Bedfordshire County Council as permanent staff, seconded to the regional headquarters of the Eastern Road Construction Unit. This included engineers and other professional staff experienced in the planning, design and construction of major motorways and trunk roads. When the offices of the Regional Controller (Roads and Transport) and Director of the Road Construction Unit were combined in 1981, it was intended that within six years all the local government offices would either transfer to the Civil Service or be made redundant. This decision and the subsequent procedures proved to be difficult and caused great anxiety to the staff involved.

Between 1979 and 1987, in the Eastern Region some 220 miles of motorways and trunk roads were completed out of the national total of nearly 700 miles.

The Primary Route Network in the Eastern Region

One of the Department's objectives in relation to local authority roads is that County highway authorities should pay particular attention to their primary routes so that they can properly complement the trunk roads in quality and capacity. Primary routes are those which, in combination with the motorways, provide a national network which will serve the needs of through traffic travelling between different areas of the country, and they carry the distinctive green-backed signs.

In 1978, 1980 and 1981, the County Surveyors of Eastern Region (then including Oxfordshire) published Reports on the Primary Route Network for their counties. They set out their views on the way it should develop over the remainder of the century, but at the same time considered the scale of resources likely to be needed for improvement. In a unique co-operative exercise the Department in 1982 agreed to sponsor a joint Working Party to carry out a full review not only of the primary route network itself and its needs, but also by drawing together national and local census material to look at the levels of local traffic growth to be expected by the end of the century. These assessments were able to demonstrate that traffic was already growing at rates significantly above those for the rest of England, and that this was expected to continue beyond 2001.

Publication of the Working Party joint report "Primary Route Network Eastern Region Review of Growth and Investment" followed in 1983 and it not only defined an agreed long-term network, but also set out the predicted levels of traffic on each part of it and quantified the scale of investment which would be needed to make it fit for that traffic. The co-operation between Counties and Department is continuing through the medium of a joint standing committee which monitors both traffic growth in the Region and progress with the investment programmes of the Department and the counties against what had been assessed in 1983 [Ref 14]. Across the Country as a whole, the Department built on this lead from its Eastern Region by sponsoring similar exercises in each of the other Regions. This enabled the results to be drawn together to provide an agreed national primary network for the future and a picture of the scale of investment needed to make it into a system well suited to the demands of the next century.