How there were nearly four ‘M25’ motorways and the impact of the plan on Hertfordshire
The M25 carries millions of cars each year and is one of Britain’s most famous roads.
It is 117 miles long – making it the second longest ring road in Europe – and it crosses several counties, including Hertfordshire.
Despite our love-hate relationship with her, the highway is a vital part of the transportation network.
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Not only is it used by motorists trying to get around London and the counties around it, it also acts as a vital interchange for roads such as the A10, M1 and A1 (M) .
With increasing traffic, more and more cars use the M25 every day and for many people it is simply not sufficient as a London ring road.
The reason it may not be up to the task is that it was never designed to be a single road.
After World War II plans began to form to improve infrastructure around London and these evolved into the London Ringways program in the 1960s.
If this project had been implemented, there would have been four different ring roads around London, instead of just the M25.
Here is the story of almost four different “M25s”:
Where would the roads have been?
With the increase in the number of cars across the country, especially in areas around London, it became evident that more road infrastructure was needed.
Inspired by the County of London plan in the 1940s, in 1964 the government of the day devised the London Ringways program.
Backed by the Greater London Council – which largely approved the plans – work has started on the design and construction of the London Ringways.
This proposed the construction of four separate ring roads around London, with a gap of about eight miles between each.
Ringway 1 would have acted as a box around central London.
Four roads would have joined in a parallelogram shape, with Hackney Wick, Battersea, Harlseden and Kidbrooke at the four corners.
It would have served as transport routes to central London through places like Camden, Greenwich, Brixton and Peckham.
In the 1960s, the London Underground was nowhere near as developed as it is today, with the Jubille Line and the DLR not even being built yet.
Highway type roads were therefore not excluded.
Only a few minor sections of this part of the Ringways have been built, including the East Cross Route and the Westway.
If Ringway 1 had been built it would have been known as East Cross Route, West Cross Route, South Cross Route and North Cross Route.
Ringway 2 would be the first full ring road.
The northern half would have followed the route of the existing North Circular road between Gunnersbury and the M11.
It would then separate from the old road – which ended at Gants Hill – and head towards the Thames via Beckton.
Once at the Thames, a new tunnel would have been built to Thamesmead.
This would have replaced the Woolwich Ferry.
This new tunnel would have linked the northern half of Ring 2 to the southern half, which would have replaced Circulaire Sud.
This southern section was never built.
If Ringway 2 had been built it could have been called M15 – as it was assigned to a section of the road between the M11 and the A13 – but this has never been confirmed.
The Ring 3 would have followed in part the route that we know today as the M25.
It would have started in Essex at Dartford Crossing, then head north on the same route as the M25 today.
At Potters Bar it would take a tighter turn, heading south through Harrow and Hounslow.
South of the Thames it would pass Chessington, Purley and Croydon before reaching Swanley.
It would then follow the route the M25 makes today to Dartford Crossing.
The section of Ringway 3 that was built eventually became the M25, in addition to a part of Ringway 4 that was built.
Engineers then built an additional road to connect the two, to create what we know today as the M25.
If Ringway 3 was built, it could have been called the M16 – as appears on some planning documents – but this has never been confirmed.
Ringway 4 would not have been a ring per se, but rather a spiral.
It would originate from Ringway 3 near Brentwood via the proposed M12 – a then newly planned motorway for Essex.
It would then continue north past Epping on the M11 and past Hoddesdon, Hatfield and St Albans.
At Watford it would follow the M25 road to Redhill, where it would follow the M26 road to Kent.
The parts of Ringway 4 that were built were glued together with the parts of Ringway 3, creating what we now call the M25.
The M26 was also born from this match.
It is not known what Ringway 4 would have been called, but the documentation refers to Ringway 4 as the north and south orbital highway.
There was also a selection of connecting roads called “radials” which connected all the Ringways together.
Some of these “radials” were built and exist today, like the extension of the M11, and some never were, like the aforementioned M12 and M13.
How would Herts have been affected?
Hertfordshire would undoubtedly have been impacted by the Ringways program, as would all the other counties surrounding London.
Had Ringway 4 been completed, residents of St Albans and Hoddesdon, as well as other areas of Herts, might have had other travel options.
The interconnection of all these roads could also have relieved the M25 that we all know too well these days.
The increase in road infrastructure through the program may also have made traveling by car much easier in and around London.
If Ringways had been fully built, it is possible that the transport network from London – including rail links and the Elizabeth Line – would not have been so extensive.
Crossrail 2 may not even have been a proposition.
It’s impossible to know what life might have been like with Ringways, but that certainly wouldn’t be the way we live it now.
Why didn’t this happen?
Clearly, Ringways was never completed.
In the 1970s, after construction began on various parts of the Ringways, the project became increasingly controversial.
The Greater London Council has estimated that if completed Ringways 1, 2 and 3 would cost around £ 1.7bn to build, or £ 26.5bn today.
The plans are fiercely unpopular to us among London residents, who have said central London’s freeways will look out of place and ugly – as well as demolish huge swathes of historic land.
It has been reported that between 15,000 and 80,000 Londoners could have lost their homes had the entire Ringways program been built to completion.
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That is why in 1973 the Labor Party presented an anti-Ringways manifesto in the Greater London Council elections.
It turned out to be popular and they were voted on by a majority.
Fierce opposition from Labor in London and resident campaign groups led the government to withdraw funding for the project mid-construction.
Over the next 13 years, existing parts of the already built Ringways were sealed with sections of road to create what we know today as the M25 – which was completed in 1986.
Decades later, traffic remains a problem around London, but huge infrastructure projects have turned to rail with the HS2 and the Elizabeth Line, both equally controversial.
It doesn’t look like we’ll ever see four different M25s, but there are probably a lot of people out there who are thankful.
Would four different M25s have been better? register here and let us know in the comments below.