Burdock Way:
History

If you've already taken the tour, or perhaps if you've driven around Halifax for yourself, you'll be familiar with Burdock Way as it is now: an impressive feat of engineering in its own right and a remarkable thing to find in a town so small.

But what was it meant to be? What was supposed to fit into the gaps and replace the temporary flyover?

A town on the edge

Burdock Way flies over Cross Hills
Burdock Way flies over Cross Hills

In the early 1960s, Halifax was a booming mill town, with the decline of heavy industry still not really in evidence. Its town centre was busy, not just with the local traffic serving the town's mills, industry and commerce, but with through traffic too. The A629 crossed the town from north to south, carrying traffic from Keighley and the Dales, Huddersfield and beyond. The A58 passed through east-west with a considerable amount of trans-Pennine traffic on its way from Manchester and Liverpool to Leeds. Traffic from both routes connected to the A647 towards Bradford.

Halifax's narrow, often steeply sloped streets were already busy, and with an estimated 60% of traffic in the town centre having no business there, things were only set to get worse. For some years, John Burdock, a prominent town counciller, lobbied for a bypass of some sort to ease the congestion. But the principal argument against this was the fact that Halifax was in no geographic position to run new roads around the town - it was surrounded on all sides by the steep foothills of the Pennines. The only place for a new road for through traffic was through the town centre. Nonetheless, pressure was building to do something before the town became choked.

In 1964, an extraordinary council meeting was held. It took place in complete secrecy - the only thing the press could extract from officials was that council members were meeting to make the most important decision in the history of the town. The decision, of course, was whether to build a destructive new road through the town centre to solve the problem.

The Plan

John Burdock remained at the forefront of the campaign. The plans that had been drawn up were not just destructive, requiring the demolition of scores of buildings around the edge of the central district along with a historic house and a beauty spot to the south. They were also to be a spectacular feat of engineering - a unique solution to the problem that called for trenches, flyovers, enormous two-level viaducts and more.

Burdock's forward-looking argument was that roads like this may well be commonplace in the future, and however bizarre the road may appear, it would be of immeasurable benefit to the town. The council agreed to go ahead with the plans, and subsequently detailed plans were drawn up and submitted to the Ministry of Transport for approval.

Stage 1 of Burdock Way, showing all that currently exists. Click to enlarge

Stage 1 of Burdock Way, showing all that currently exists. Click to enlarge

Under Construction

The Ministry agreed to allocate funding for Stage 1 of the road, providing a bypass for A58 traffic and building the first phase of the viaducts across the valley, in 1968. Construction began two years later, and the road finally opened to traffic in 1973 to much fanfare by the local press. A 'walkabout' was held on the unopened road, and some 60,000 residents of Halifax took the opportunity to explore the new bypass in detail. At the opening ceremony, conducted by mayor Ald. Maurice Jagger, the road was officially named after the man who secured its construction. Burdock Way opened to traffic in April 1973.

Stages 2 and 3, building a second 'fast-track' level on the viaduct and completing the bypass to the south to remove A629 traffic from the town, were next in the plans. Trouble came when the route's southern terminus affected the two stately homes and the parkland surrounding them, and the removal of some public parkland, met with protest from the public. For several years the plans went back and forth, and all the while the statutory purchase orders of the historic building and dozens of other homes on the route were never issued.

In 1974, local government was reorganised and responsibility for Burdock Way was transferred to the new West Yorkshire County Council. By 1976 the new authority had shelved the plans for both subsequent stages for at least 15 years. A slight change of mind the following year, partly in order to end planning blight along the route and partly to do with a £12m savings plan, meant the plans were permanently scrapped.

It was already too late for the eighteenth-century Well Head House and its gardens, which were demolished in 1975. The nineteenth-century house Kirby Leas fell into disrepair and after heavy vandalism was also demolished in 1979, long after the danger of the road being built was removed.

The final plan for Burdock Way, showing Stages 2 and 3 completed. Click to enlarge

The final plan for Burdock Way, showing Stages 2 and 3 completed. Click to enlarge

The Unbuilt Sections

What of the parts of Burdock Way that were never built? Its missing sections are hinted at in the existing design. Near the current western terminus, both carriageways widen briefly to what look like lay-bys - the beginning of sliproads to the short elevated section at the start of Stage 3. The viaducts are built with space between them for a row of supports for a second level. And at the eastern interchange, the westbound A58 rises onto a bridge embankment before being carried downhill on a metal-built flyover to a set of traffic lights before joining the viaduct. The trajectory of the embankment would take it straight on to the viaduct's upper level. And then there's the obvious flared carriageways at the central roundabout and eastern end where the upper viaduct would have landed.

Completing the scheme to its original designs now would be difficult. Beside the fact that it would require substantial upgrades to three of the roads leading out of the town, which remain single carriageway, the restricted interchanges would cause problems. The worst would be traffic on the westbound A58 entering the town centre. The road into the centre from the A647 and A58 is carried on a Victorian bridge, and in the 1970's carried four lanes of traffic. However, renovation work to the ageing structure carried out in the early 1990's reduced it to just two lanes, and traffic flows in the centre now rely on more traffic entering via the central roundabout and A629. With the final plan, this leaves a large amount of traffic doing a 360-degree circuit of the eastern junction.

Conclusion

Even since the construction of the M62, there are large volumes of traffic passing through the town, and despite only a third of the route ever being built, Burdock Way is still a useful and effective route. It is also one of the most impressive road schemes to be found in any town in the country - certainly any town the size of Halifax. The designs for the missing section show some of the most grand and visionary transport planning this country has seen.

With thanks to Dave Tyas for information on this page.