The first and most obvious theme is the limited, almost passive, indeed sometimes wholly negative, role of central government, or ‘the state’, even in constructing national networks. The first Private Members Bill for a motorway standard road was considered in 1906. Construction of the first stretch of
motorway began only in 1958. During the 1930s, though progress was made with new road schemes in the provinces, especially in Liverpool, central government remained indifferent or hostile. These new roads were not required, according to a Royal Commission on Transport in 1931; and in any event they could not be built because the country was already so ‘densely roaded’. Incremental improvement to the existing system – patch and mend – was the better solution. In 2006 the Eddington Report, commissioned by Tony Blair’s government, expressed uncannily similar views, hostile to grands projéts, and in favour of small-scale improvements to an existing system. In particular, high-speed rail, it argued, was not needed in Britain. Britain’s towns and cities were so much closer together than their equivalents on the continent. A map showing the distances between major cities served to underline the point; or more accurately to distort it, since it left off the connections to more distant Scottish cities (HM Treasury, 2006). The initiative for motorway building came from outside the government machine, from a small group of committed professionals, operating within professional institutions and within local government.