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The origins of the motorways of the region


Although not the first consideration given to the possibility of constructing motorways in Britain, in 1936 the Institution of Highway Engineers published a plan for a network of such roads.

A few years earlier, the Lancashire County Council had reached conclusions on proposals for improving the A6/A49 existing North-South route through the County. It was the intention to provide a high-standard all-purpose road of dual carriageways, cycle tracks and footpaths within an overall width of 120 feet.

However, in 1937, the County Council had become 'seriously perturbed' by the number of accidents, both fatal and otherwise, on the Liverpool-East Lancashire Road which had been opened by King George V only as recently as July 1934. As an all-purpose road with an overall width of 120 feet, it had a single three-lane carriageway 40 feet wide and a very large number of surface level access points, which was the main reason for the high accident rate. Frequent requests were being received for some form of control to be installed at the various crossings, but it was felt that this would tend to reduce the efficiency of the road and would ultimately defeat the object for which it had been constructed.

The County Council expressed the view, therefore, that with regard to the earlier proposals for the North-South route, 'these evils' should 'not be perpetuated'. Taking this factor into account, and the extensive property demolition which would have been involved in improving the existing A6/A49 route, it was decided that an entirely new route with controlled access, was required. Further, that it should be restricted to the use of motor traffic, ie a 'motorway' and, in that respect the proposal was in conformity with the plan of the Institution of Highway Engineers.

The most significant factor, however, in generating widespread interest in motorways during that period, was undoubtedly the development of the German autobahnen. Also in 1937, a Group known as the German Roads Delegation, numbering 224 members, including Members of Parliament, representatives of highway authorities, highway engineers and others involved in vehicle operation carried out a tour of inspection of the system.

James Drake, the newly appointed Surveyor of Blackpool, was a member of the Group and he was so impressed with what he saw, that he later recommended that a 'ring road', which had been proposed for the busy seaside resort, should be constructed as a 'motorway'.

Meanwhile, the report of the Group's visit was considered by the County Surveyors' Society and this led to the publication, in 1938, of its own plan for 1000 miles of motorway linking the main industrial centres in the Country.

Although only drawn to a small scale, both of those pre-War plans included a proposed motorway from London to Carlisle, passing through Cheshire, Lancashire, Westmorland and Cumberland. In South Lancashire, however, the 1936 plan showed an alignment through the Manchester area whereas the route in the later plan, as proposed by the then County Surveyor and Bridgemaster was sited further to the west, near Warrington.

The Minister of Transport at that time, the Rt Hon Leslie Burgin, also visited the autobahnen and recommended that, as an experiment, approval should be given to a scheme put forward by Lancashire County Council for the construction of a motorway 62 miles long, passing through the County between Warrington and Carnforth. Wigan was to be by-passed on the Western side, and Preston and Lancaster to the East. Some preliminary survey work was undertaken but the start of the War prevented any further progress.

Even during the period of hostilities, interest in the post-War development of a system of motorways continued, particularly within the other professional bodies such as the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institution of Municipal and County Engineers.

The County Surveyors elsewhere in the Region were also actively involved in considering proposals for a North-South motorway.

In 1942, the County Surveyor of Cheshire produced an estimate for the cost of the construction of the section through his County amounting to £2.01m. Land was valued at £60 per acre, roadworks at £40000 per mile, and bridges at £11500 to £20000 each. He was also involved in discussions with the Ministry of Transport on the proposed standards of layout.

The origin of the scheme in Westmorland and Cumberland stemmed from the initiative taken by the County Surveyors' Society, endemic traffic congestion in Kendal, Penrith and Carlisle, and the need to provide an all-weather route avoiding Shap Fell, where the A6 was frequently blocked during the Winter.

The drafting of a Bill to provide the necessary legislation for the construction of motorways began in 1945. While defining the basic principles underlying the provision of such roads, eg restricted access and a dual carriageway layout, design standards were proposed by Major H.E.Aldington, then Chief Engineer in the Ministry of War Transport, which included the following:


Design speed


Formation width

For dual two-lane carriageways: 93 ft

For dual three-lane carriageways: 109 ft

Marginal strip

1 ft wide at each side of the carriageway,

flush with it and of a contrasting colour


Dual two-lane: each 22ft wide, excluding

The marginal strips.

Dual three-lane: each 30ft wide, excluding

The marginal strips.


Normally 15ft wide and clear of obstructions, but some planting of small trees and shrubs to be permitted. The width may be reduced to 5ft at bridges.



Not less than 15ft, with the width to be maintained at bridges.


Radius not less than 3000ft


Normal maximum 1 in 30, but up to 1 in 20 to be permitted in some hilly country


To be provided at intervals, to enable drivers to draw off the carriageway to rest or make minor repairs.

Roadside Facilities

No frontage access allowed, but areas to be provided for the supply of petrol, refreshment, and for Police purposes. Parking places to be provided off the highway, particularly at view-points.


Modern designs with the forms of construction, and the materials, to be appropriate to the circumstances.

Pavement design and surfacing

Attention to foundations essential. All road surfaces should, as far as practicable, be non-skid.


Since the end of the Second World War, the road network of the Region has seen changes incomparably greater in scale and impact than any which has gone before - beside these developments, even the Roman roads and the turnpikes seem modest. As elsewhere in the Country, the motorway network and the huge growth in private and commercial traffic which is inextricably linked with it, have been the subject of much debate.

In 1945, Drake was appointed County Surveyor and Bridgemaster of Lancashire, a post he was to hold for twenty seven years. At that time, the emphasis was on planning for the future and, in 1947, the County Council accepted his suggestion that a 'road plan' should be prepared.

The principal types of traffic movement were carefully analysed, ie that passing through the County on long distance journeys; cross-border movements to and from points within the County; and traffic movements within Lancashire itself. The results showed that, despite some improvements undertaken in the 1930's, the existing road network was quite unable to cope effectively with all these movements. It was also clear that the situation would deteriorate further, as the volume of traffic increased.

In order that the future road network should be as safe as possible, a major pioneering research programme was undertaken. By analysing the accidents which had occurred, a new understanding was obtained of how different layouts, traffic controls and other features affected the number and types of accident. Using this information, it was possible to forecast the accident savings which could be achieved, as an element in establishing the economic justification for any proposed scheme.

The Trunk, Class I and Class II roads had to bear the brunt of heavy through traffic and it was felt that their importance warranted a fairer system of funding than hitherto. Lancashire, with its heavy industries and popular holiday resorts, had to cater for a weight of traffic quite out of proportion to the mileage of its main road system. It was, therefore, contended that resources should be allocated according to population as well as road mileage.

A great deal of traffic data was collected from which projections of future traffic flows and road capacities were made. This enabled the future network to be defined on a basis of three categories of traffic route of which the 1st Group comprised twelve 'express routes' with dual carriageways, totalling 217 miles in length. Ninety-four miles were to be of motorway standard and all these routes were chosen to attract the highest volumes of traffic.

They included the North-South motorway and the Liverpool-Manchester-Yorkshire route, both of which had been included in a ten-year construction programme of national routes announced by the Minister of Transport, in 1946. The latter route was to incorporate the existing Liverpool-East Lancashire Road, as far as Worsley and then be a motorway following a line through the northern part of the Manchester conurbation through to the Yorkshire boundary.

Also within this category, it was proposed that the western section of the Manchester Outer Ring Road, crossing the Manchester Ship Canal by a high-level bridge, should be constructed as a motorway.

The function of the 2nd Group was defined as connecting large towns to a 1st Group route or to each other, and serving as important links. It was proposed that links from the North-South route to Blackpool and to Morecambe should be constructed as motorways, with a total mileage of 17.

North West -  The origins of the motorways of the regionIn 1949, the 'Road Plan for Lancashire' was approved by the County Council and the various proposals were included in the County Development Plan, which enabled future land use to be controlled. This allowed 'corridors of interest' for the proposed new roads, including the motorways, to be protected against development, thereby making it much easier to achieve rapid progress in carrying out the necessary statutory procedures when schemes were eventually programmed.

In due course, the Development Plan was accepted by the Government of the day and therefore, in effect, the Road Plan received the general approval of the Ministry of Transport. However, because of the large financial commitment involved, the Ministry, not unexpectedly, did not endorse it in its entirety but the Plan proved to be of considerable importance. Not only did it form the basis of highway strategies within a major part of the Region for more than thirty years, but many of the processes which were developed in its preparation were subsequently adopted nationally.

The original Plan was. however, subject to continual review to take account of traffic growth and demographic changes, leading to the introduction of further motorway projects. By the end of the Century, there were twelve separately numbered motorways within the County.

In Cheshire, there was serious traffic congestion in places such as Chester, Frodsham, Stockton Heath, Tarporley and Knutsford. The River Mersey is the traditional boundary with Lancashire and together with the Manchester Ship Canal they have formed major transport barriers. The Ship Canal needs over 25 metres clear headroom for ocean-going vessels and the main road crossings were swing bridges which took at least ten minutes for each opening.

The County has a strategic location lying astride all north-south routes west of the Pennines. With industry in the north, good east-west communications linking Merseyside and the Manchester conurbation on the south side of the Canal have always been recognised as essential. However, road planning was not undertaken in isolation but was linked with plans for the surrounding counties and conurbations, notably, Lancashire, Staffordshire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Clwyd.

Its Development Plan of 1958 included a number of major road proposals. A road plan was prepared for internal use, but unlike the 1949 Road Plan for Lancashire, it was not published. However, in addition to the early design work for the M6 carried out by the County Council, several major studies were undertaken which were of major significance in the further development of the motorway network.

In 1965 the 'Blue Report' established the case for the North Cheshire Motorway M56. Later, in 1968, a Report was prepared on the 'Proposed Major Road Network for the Chester Area', which referred to the urgent need to extend
# the M56 west of Hapsford,

# the M53 south of Hooton passing to the east of Chester and

# joining the Southern Ring Road, and

# the Ellesmere Port Motorway M531

Elsewhere in the Region, Manchester City Council had published a 'City Plan' in 1945 which included a range of major projects for new roads. Subsequently, all the local authorities in the South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire (SELNEC) became involved in a major traffic survey, which resulted in the publication of a SELNEC Highway Plan, in 1962. It envisaged a large motorway and dual carriageway network, including a ring road of the City and various radial routes. However, apart from those motorways which had already been proposed by the Lancashire and Cheshire County Councils in their own plans, only a few of the others were to be constructed, for example, the Mancunian Way and the completion of the Outer Ring Road.

In Merseyside, a similar traffic survey was carried out, leading to the preparation of a 20 year plan for new roads, which was published in 1965. In due course, however, proposals for an inner ring motorway in Liverpool, with radial motorways, connecting to the national system, were to be abandoned. In consequence, the development of the motorway network in the area was to be confined to the construction of the Liverpool Outer Ring Road, M57, and the northern section of the Mid-Wirral Motorway, M53, connecting with the second Mersey Tunnel.

In the late 1960's major transportion studies were undertaken in the two conurbations. The results of the 'SELNEC Transportation Study' and the 'Merseyside Area Land Use/Transportation Study' (MALTS), and the subsequent decisions taken by the Authorities concerned, did not materially influence the planned development of the motorway network.

The preparation, design and construction of each section of motorway within the Region is summarised in the following Chapters.