Leeds Inner Ring Road

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It's a very odd route that traces a smooth arc around the north of Leeds city centre. Despite other motorways in the area - what is now the M621, the South Eastern and South Western Urban Motorways - it doesn't really connect with anything. It has two numbers - A58(M) and A64(M) - and spends most of its time in a concrete trench.

It is by far the most destructive thing ever built in the centre of Leeds, but also probably one of the most important contributors to the city's commercial success - by taking traffic away from the city it allows the streets to be open, quiet and pedestrian-friendly.

This article examines the road and its history, through a photo-tour of the route with commentary.

Map of the route. Click to enlarge
Route map. Click to enlarge

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Our tour starts at the eastern end of the Inner Ring, here on the A64 York Road, because that's a good place for me to get off the bus. Welcome to a two hour walk around the northern fringe of central Leeds.

This view faces west, from the start of the off-slip from the A64 westbound down to the Woodpecker Junction and Marsh Lane. Ironically, the pub that the junction was named after, the Woodpecker, was demolished to build this sliproad. In the mid-distance are two parallel flyovers; one for westbound traffic, and slightly higher up and much older, one for eastbound traffic. Eastbound is the last few yards of the A64(M), which terminates as the sliproad back up from the Woodpecker Junction joins. Westbound is plain-vanilla A64.

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A ground-level view of the Woodpecker Junction, looking north from somewhere about halfway back. Leeds, more than any other city, has something of a fetish for these sprawling landscaped interchanges, with traffic lights everywhere. In the distance behind the trees is the newer westbound A64 flyover.

Until this was built in the early 1990's, eastbound traffic flew over Burmantofts Road and the traffic lights, while the whole westbound carriageway dropped down here and stopped at what was essentially a crossroads. The upgrade involved a new flyover, a new sliproad down, the demolition of the actual Woodpecker, and the expansion of the traffic lights to cover an area about the size of Belgium.

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Underneath the older eastbound flyover, this local (non-motorway) road emerges from the next junction along. The best of luck if you don't know which direction you want to turn, because the lanes split with no warning and no advance signing.

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A view looking east from the Quarry Hill footbridge. On the left is the A64(M), running on the top deck, with the local road form the previous picture underneath. The lay-by is actually where a sliproad merges into the road on the deck below, and is roofed over. On the right is the A64, which came over the flyover and then stopped at some traffic lights anyway. Even this far beyond the Woodpecker Junction, the A64(M) is still just one of the two carriageways.

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Looking west from the same footbridge, a sliproad drops down from the A64(M) to the deck beneath. It was the original intention to have both sides of the motorway at this level.

The sliproad seen here in the foreground would originally have branched in two, one side curving round from eastbound to southbound to join the street passing below and head back into the city centre. This, the Mabgate Loop, was dropped from the original plans but ressurrected in the 90's as one option for the City Centre Loop Road. Once again, it is no longer on the cards.

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A shot of the opposite carriageway. Originally both sides of the A64(M) would have continued at the top deck level, and this sharp incline to the upper level was meant to be a temporary ramp. It was from here that the motorway was to be extended to the Woodpecker Junction, then south to tie in with the M621 in the south - the never-built North East Urban Motorway. Today the main carriageway feeds onto the A64 York Road, but originally those connections would have been provided by the lower deck.

Note the section of railing that continues straight out from the top of the ramp on the left, indicating the road was meant to continue level, and the minute "start of motorway" sign on the right (yes, the tiny little speck of blue).

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The monstrous Regent Street Flyover - built on massive concrete pillars and painted cheery blue and red to lessen its ugliness. The A64(M) passes across the top, and access to the eastbound bottom deck is from under the bridge. This is actually the junction with the A61.

This bridge apparently proved very tricky to build: the Civil Engineering and Public Works Review 1969 notes that "...piling was necessary at both abutments and piers of the Regent Street Flyover where boreholes were taken down to 100ft without meeting any hard strata", though ironically enough, just a few feet further north of the site was a solid bed of rock.

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Looking west into the mouth of the underpass beneath North Street, and the junction that terminates Vicar Lane and New Briggate. On the left is a sliproad which just left the A64(M), on the right is what seems from here to be a sliproad about to join the motorway, but instead just goes down to Regent Street. This is a one way street carrying the City Centre Loop (a one-way circuit around the city centre), and the alternative to routing part of it on the Inner Ring Road and building the Mabgate Loop.

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Looking south at the North Street junction, and the Ring Road's only loop, which takes traffic from northbound to eastbound. In the background is Brunswick Point, built on top of the former Brunswick Methodist Church, and supporting it the Ring Road's highest retaining wall, reaching 35ft a little further to the right. The white railings rising up between the carriageways are the right-hand exit.

On the right of the loop sliproad is a landscaped area - this is the edge of a public park, with nothing to divide the motorway itself from the paths and flowerbeds except an embankment.

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A wider look at the North Street junction, taken from the Wade Lane overbridge and looking east. Underneath the junction, the two carriageways split apart to make room for this right hand exit - forced to leave here to avoid having to take a sliproad round the outside of the loop, which enters from the left. The right-hand exit wasn't in the original plans for the road: it is likely it was proposed instead of building the Mabgate Loop, as that would have made traffic double back to reach the city centre and would have taken more land up.

The sign to the left of the sliproad diverge is typical Leeds Inner Ring signage: lots of directions in small print, and this is the first and last sign for this exit.

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A very inventive and stylish development of apartments which has sprung up in the last few years, inside the North Street loop. This photo also shows how little there is to stop anyone walking straight onto the motorway - not so much as a 'keep off the grass' sign to stop you taking a picnic on the kerbside.

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A view of the Wade Lane overbridge, which features one of the surviving original signs. These are built into the structure of the bridge and have semi-transparent fronts which are backlit at night (or used to be). A few years ago they started vanishing in favour of normal signposts mounted on bridges, because as this photo shows you just can't read them. This is supposed to read "Skipton (A660) City Centre".

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Looking west from the Wade Lane overbridge at the stretch of Inner Ring Road between North Street and Claypit Lane junctions. On the left is the exit for Woodhouse Lane and the multi-storey car park, and on the right the entry from the same junction. These run alongside the motorway past the Claypit Lane junction and on to the next one. At the bottom of the photograph, the start of the right-hand exit sliproad markings, showing just how close the junctions are.

A total of 360 residential and 173 commercial buildings, mostly due for slum clearance anyway, were demolished to build the road. The view here was heaviest hit - once a large district of terraced houses called Brunswick. Today, the whole district has ceased to exist.

In places where it wasn't possible to clear the land around the road, existing buildings had to be temporarily supported until the concrete retaining wall could take over. The scariest example was a temporary scaffold which had to support a five storey concrete framed building, twelve feet below its basement level, for several weeks.

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At the Claypit Lane junction, on the overbridge across the motorway, a large bleak and rather windswept area used for, er, nothing. An extra wide bridge was built so that the sliproads could curve around to join Claypit Lane (the A58) at odd angles, but it leaves the whole area looking very empty and cold. This is the original eastern terminus of the Ring Road - the the west is Stage I, to the east Stage II.

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Facing west from the Claypit Lane overbridge, and the Ring Road is suddenly very very wide. In the centre are the two main carriageways; outside these are the Claypit Lane sliproads dropping down to merge with it; on the very outside are the sliproads for Woodhouse Lane which split off east of Claypit Lane. In the distance, the large imposing concrete box is Woodhouse Lane multi-storey car park.

The second carriageway from the left heads down to the motorway, splitting into two around the pillars supporting the multi-storey car park, with both merging with the mainline. This sliproad, from the vantage point onwards, is under motorway restrictions, but there's no start-of-restrictions sign. Oops! Are motorway restrictions still enforcable on the motorway?

Very early plans have both Claypit Lane sliproads on the inside, entering and exiting the motorway on the right.

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Just south of the Woodhouse Lane multi-storey car park is this loop sliproad, leading into the bottom level of the car park, provides an entrance for traffic just off the Woodhouse Lane sliproad, and an exit to Woodhouse Lane itself. There are similar fast-access ramps tying this car park in with the Inner Ring Road and Woodhouse Lane, and the car park itself is built on top of the Ring Road. It was part of a programme to tie in road transport facilities with the new motorway network, with similar car parks planned at Claypit Lane and Regent Street. The Inner Ring Road lies to our right in this photo.

Technically this should all have motorway restrictions but no signs are present. Are restrictions still enforceable here?

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A view east from the Woodhouse Lane overbridge, looking at the sliproad diverge from eastbound to northbound on Blenheim Walk.

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The same view during construction in 1964. (Archive image by kind permission of Leodis Database - original image here.)

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The same overbridge as seen in the previous photo. Originally it was intended to dual Woodhouse Lane, the A660, on a new line, and this overbridge was built in preparation. This was never carried out - A660 traffic now goes northbound on Woodhouse Lane and southbound on Blenheim Walk, with this bridge stranded between the two. It's now a car park for BBC Leeds - as the parked cars show.

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Looking west from the same point, the Inner Ring Road heads slightly downhill and into the mouth of the Westgate Tunnel - 1,800ft long and built as cut-and-cover, allowing the University of Leeds campus and Leeds General Infirmary buildings to be built on top. Walking around the University or LGI today and the link is seamless - traffic passes silently underneath. The University and LGI were being redeveloped anyway, so there were no construction issues with carving a slice through the landscape, and the whole of Stage I from Westgate to Claypit Lane cost just £2.4m when opened in 1967.

The vertical cutting used to build the rest of the road extremely effective: take five paces to the right of this location, and the only sign of the motorway's existence is the blue-grey railing. Not only can you not see the road, you can hardly even hear it.

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A closer shot of the eastern portal to the Westgate Tunnel. Unusually for a road like this, it is signposted with a height restriction (warning signs for this are quite extensive, and can be seen in the first photo taken east of the Woodpecker Junction). Note also the overhead signs which make it look like there is a lane drop at the next junction; all that really happens is both lanes continue straight ahead. This is more of an attempt to keep straight-through traffic on the right.

The road over this bridge, Calverley Street, is signposted as a "weak bridge" complete with weight limit: the reason for this seems to be that the central supporting wall in the tunnel starts some way inside the tunnel. No real reason for this can be found.

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The view east from above the eastern portal of the Westgate Tunnel. Note the amount of land cleared either side: to build the road a wide cutting was made, the retaining walls constructed, and then backfilled. For Stages I and II alone, 350,000 cubic yards of material were excavated, and then partly replaced by 50,000 cubic yards of concrete.

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The same view during construction in 1964. (Archive image by kind permission of the Leodis Database - original image here.)

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The view south from the top of the Westgate Tunnel's western portal. The junction visible here is the Westgate junction, where Stage I ended at a simple roundabout. This was replaced when Stage III was built with the overbridge and toe-curling sliproads visible here. The design speed for the road was just 40mph, dropping to 20mph on the sliproads.

The building on the left is brand new and around ten storeys high: the large land clearance for the road cleared the site of nearby buildings for many years, but the strong retaining walls mean there are an increasing number of large buildings like this one pressing up against the Ring Road.

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Moving slightly away from the road, this is the car park of an NHS building, visible to the left, built above the Westgate Tunnel. The land was lowered to build the car park at street level, but note the wall at the end which rises up to a grassed area. This is actually on top of the Tunnel, and at original ground level. There is a black panel on the side of the wall, which is one of the numerous 'pop-out' panels built into the sides in case fans were required to ventilate the tunnel - these were not fitted when the tunnel was built, and have not been required since.

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A view of the southern portal to the Westgate Tunnel, which curves around almost ninety degrees during its course. There is another height warning here, and signing which again places traffic for the next exit in the left hand lane and through traffic on the right.

Unusually, almost all the signs on the Inner Ring Road print the road numbers as "A64M" and "A58M" rather than using brackets ("A64(M)", etc). Original backlit signs built into the bridges were written this way, though these were valid according to the signing regulations at the time they were produced. Since then it seems signs have been copied from the originals, creating these anomalies.

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A closer look at the westbound off-slip to Westgate. This allows access only into the City Centre - it's not possible to turn right and head out from here. Note the slightly optimistic "30" sign on the left hand side: even if you manage to spot this, hidden behind a retaining wall, there's not much chance you'll exceed it. The next sign on the right gives an urgent warning of traffic lights in 20 yards.

The new building on the left is a private hospital: its publicity boasts of its city centre location, but airbrushes out from photos the fact that if you open a window you'll get a lungful of exhaust fumes from the Inner Ring.

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One last look at Stage I, and this is the on-slip from Westgate. This battered sign reads "A 58 M" with a No Pedestrians sign underneath, probably because the 5ft paved verge looks suspiciously like a footpath. This is one of the rare points where there's actually open acknowledgement that this is a motorway and it has a number: in most places there's just a motorway symbol, a very small sign, or nothing at all (as we saw at Claypit Lane). Many signs pointing to it from the city centre have "Inner Ring Road" on a blue patch, but no number displayed.

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A view from the footbridge beside the International Pool, looking north to the Westgate junction. On the left is a sliproad leading up to Westgate from the Inner Ring; this widens out on the right hand side, because this is the top deck of two. Underneath is a sliproad joining from the A65 Wellington Street junction further south, which can just be seen merging in. On the right is what appears to be a sliproad, but which doesn't actually join the motorway: instead it runs alongside and then stops at the Wellington Street junction. This is all that's left of the section of Westgate that ran along this line until the Inner Ring was built on top of it.

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Looking south from the same place, and a clear view of Stage III of the Inner Ring. The road from Westgate is seen on the left dropping down to the Wellington Street junction, accompanied by a sliproad leaving the motorway. On the right, the sliproad up to Westgate diverges from the eastbound carriageway, and the sliproad about to join it disappears underneath. To prove that no motorway restrictions apply on the left hand carriageway, there's a cyclist on it, though it's only divided from the motorway by a couple of inches of kerb.

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A rather sun-dazzled photo of the Wellington Street flyover: the land drops steeply away from the Westgate tunnel, so the motorway stays level, coming out of a cutting and immediately onto a raised viaduct. In the foreground, four lanes join the junction: two on the left from Westgate, two on the right from the Inner Ring Road.

The Wellington Street junction is a sort of roundabout interchange, with the added twist that traffic exiting the motorway from this direction can only pass onto a special right-turn sliproad across the middle of the roundabout, leaving it facing the A65 westbound. To head into the city it joins the roundabout from the inside and turns back on itself.

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The same ideals of having traffic come straight off the Inner Ring and into a car park that caused the Woodhouse Lane multi-storey car park created this. Inside the Wellington Street junction's roundabout, there's room for an alarmingly spacious car park. The flyover carrying the last few yards of the Inner Ring is visible in the background, with the city centre beyond it to the east.

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The Wellington Street car park even has some less impressive fast-access sliproads: this one takes traffic heading into the city on the A65, and does a stomach-churning dip under the roundabout. It's rather neglected now, with a small pond forming in the bottom.

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This is the sliproad from the Wellington Street roundabout heading towards the Inner Ring Road eastbound. It splits in two, the right hand side going underneath another sliproad to join the motorway, the left going up to merge with that other sliproad and on to Westgate. The right hand lane has unusual signage, with not just two motorway symbols, but also two "40" signs on it. Apparently not everyone realises what rather peculiar regulations apply to the Inner Ring Road!

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The sliproad - not a motorway - leading from the Wellington Street junction towards the Inner Ring westbound. At the top, it hits an "end of motorway restrictions" sign (aimed at traffic from the flyover) and merges in to make the A58, which carries the road over the River Aire, under a railway viaduct and onto the Armley Gyratory. This image marks the end of the A58(M).

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...And this photo marks the start of it! The last image shows more unusual signing over the mainline A58 eastbound carriageway heading onto the flyover - two more motorway symbols and two more "40" signs. Mounted underneath this on the gantry is another sign listing some extra destinations; oddly this is a green primary sign with all the text in a black-on-white non-primary patch. To the left of this the non-motorway slip road drops back down to Wellington Street.

Thanks to Leeds Central Library, who bent over backwards to pull ancient maps and booklets from their archive, and without whom none of this would have been possible. Many thanks also for the generosity of the Leodis.net Image Archive, who very kindly granted permission for the use of three photos taken during the construction of the road.

With thanks to Alex for information in this section.