Ringway 1 would probably have been the largest inner ring road the world had ever seen: an urban motorway encircling about sixty square miles of central London, including the whole of the City, Westminster and all of the present-day Congestion Charging zone, plus almost all of its docklands and the East End. Its proximity to the central area made it easily the most intrusive and difficult of all the proposed roads in the Ringway plan.
Surprisingly, a substantial amount of it was built. The entire eastern flank is there to be driven today, and a short section in the west was opened to traffic, though in recent years has been substantially altered and is no longer recognisably a motorway.
Otherwise known as the London Motorway Box, this was not the ring that the name 'Ringway' would suggest. Battered and squashed through densely built-up areas, it followed railway lines to limit its intrusion on the neighbourhoods it passed through. Its route dictated its shape, a parallelogram in motorway form. Each side of the box was, in many respects, a route in itself (and each was often discussed by the GLC in relative isolation). The project was thus split into four obvious components, dubbed the North, South, East and West Cross Route. These terms appear to be derived from the Report of the Committee on London Roads, July 1959 to improve strategic routes through the city, which included a wide range of "Cross Routes" of various names. This plan included the East Cross Route as a motorway, and the fragment of the West Cross Route that was eventually built, suggesting that the plan for the full box existed in some form but had not yet been made public.
Artist's impression of the West Cross Route above Kensal Green Cemetary
Ringway 1 was generally accepted to be the minimum solution to the "problem" London was facing, and was to be given the highest priority even if the other Ringway orbits were cancelled. It was to be an inner ring road that would serve to distribute short-distance traffic around London, and allow longer distance traffic to bypass the central area. It was fully expected that a significant amount of through traffic with no business in London would travel in to use Ringway 1 in order to take the shortest route to its destination.
The price that the GLC were willing to pay for the route reflects their high regard for it. The 1969 estimate for the cost of the route was more than £1bn, with land costs making up the larger part of that sum. In today's prices that would be £12.86bn, though in fact it would be even more because many of the places Ringway 1 was to pass through were deprived in 1966 but are now much sought-after places to live. Compensation to evictees would also be an enormous cost: it was estimated in May 1968 that some 36,000 people would have to be rehomed. 13,300 of those would be on the North Cross Route; 2,650 on the East, 3,200 on the West and 16,850 on the South Cross Route.
No surprise, then, that central Government (the Ministry of Transport included) was very keen to distance itself from these controversial plans. Ringway 1 alone - a relatively small part of the total mileage of the Ringway plans - would have been the most expensive public works scheme ever undertaken in this country, and the Treasury in particular was very anxious to see the Motorway Box put to an early death.
The following pages describe the route clockwise from the north-western corner.