chapter  7
Driving Ambitions: Engineering the British Motorways
Pages 15

Who built the UK’s motorways?… What I observe first is the complexity of the task when seen as a whole, and the scarcity of certainties in it… What was ordered was a system. But it was not ordered as a whole. Successive parts of it were ordered, with degrees of uncertainty about detail at the time of announcement, and uncertainty about what would be ordered next and when, if at all. Sir Peter Baldwin, former Permanent Secretary, Department for Transport, 2004

Half hidden behind plastic litterbins, there lies at Charnock Richard motorway service station in Lancashire a remarkable little concrete monument, in the shape of single standing car wheel. It records the construction of the M6 motorway, a fact now evidently taken for granted by its users, yet a feat of British planning and engineering almost without parallel. For the M6 motorway is where Britain’s post-war motorway building project began, specifically in an 8 mile (13 km) long project called the Preston By-Pass, opened by Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1958. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the building of these motorways was the first government funded transport plan since the departure of the Roman legions in AD 410. For Britain’s railways and canals had been built at private initiative, and its early toll roads, like its ports, were not built by government.