South Cross Route

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Controversial and somewhat shrouded in mystery, the South Cross Route is one of the most elusive motorway plans to track down by quite some distance. Unlike the other three sides of Ringway 1, no detailed plans have ever turned up.

For a long time it was assumed that this was because it had never been planned in any great detail, but it seems that this isn't the case. A firm of consultant engineers called Husband & Co. were commissioned by the GLC to produce two reports, one on the South Cross Route and one on the complex interchange that would need to be built at Clapham Junction. This should have resulted in the sort of lengthy documents and stacks of engineering diagrams that have provided detailed information on the North Cross Route and West Cross Route. But no such reports have ever come to light.

Nonetheless, there are enough fragments of information out there to piece together the alignment of the motorway with some accuracy, the places where junctions were supposed to be installed, and the furore over the motorway through Blackheath.

Outline map

Map image Continues from East Cross Route
Map image A2(M) and A20(M) (Kidbrooke Interchange)
Map image Possible tunnel at Blackheath (cut-and-cover)
Map image New Cross Spur to A2
Map image A2215 Rye Lane for Peckham
Map image A215 Denmark Hill
Map image SCRPDR (or Parkway E)
Map image A24 Clapham High Street
Map image Link road to Ringway 2 at Wandsworth
Map image Bridge over Thames
Map image Continues to West Cross Route

The route

At the south-east corner of Ringway 1, the ring road would not have been the through route. Traffic coming off the southern end of the East Cross Route would have found the A20(M) straight ahead, and traffic going the other way, eastbound on the South Cross Route, would have flowed directly into the A2(M). Staying on Ringway 1 would have involved taking an exit sliproad in both directions.

Draft plan for New Cross Spur. Click to enlargeWestward from there, the motorway would quickly join the north side of the railway line towards London Bridge, passing through Blackheath. Alongside the railway tunnel, the motorway was planned to run in a cut-and-cover tunnel of its own. To the west, Hurren Close in Blackheath might be recent development on a strip of land reserved for the motorway.

At St John's, a three-way free flowing interchange would link the New Cross Spur, which would continue along the railway towards London Bridge, terminating on the A2 at New Cross. (An original draft plan for the interchange, drawn in colour pencil, is shown right; click to enlarge.) This short spur would complete the A2 bypass, returning traffic to the original road after relieving Eltham, Kidbrooke and Greenwich. The South Cross Route itself would follow the other branch of the railway, joining the north side of the South London Railway. It would take out most of Geoffrey Road and the south side of Drakefell Road, among others.

The A2215 Rye Lane, at Peckham Rye station, would be the site of a local interchange. The motorway would then continue west, now on the south side of the railway, taking out most of Blenheim Grove. At Camberwell Grove, it would split, running with one carriageway on each side of the railway. Denmark Hill station would become a rather isolated and windswept place in the central reservation of a motorway. There would be another local junction here connecting to the A215 Denmark Hill.

Brixton viewed from the motorway. Click to enlarge
Brixton town centre, post-redevelopment, seen from the motorway. Click to enlarge

Both carriageways would come back together on the south side of the railway line before Loughborough Junction, where the SCRPDR would connect at a free-flowing interchange. The motorway would have run above the railway, passing through the middle of the railway junction at Brixton, about six floors above ground level as it crossed Brixton Road. There would have been no junction at Brixton, but lay-bys for express buses were proposed here, as part of a public transport interchange between domestic buses, high-speed motorway buses, rail and the (then new) Victoria Line tube.

Architect's model of Brixton redevelopment plan. Click to enlargeA restaurant was planned, suspended above the motorway, as part of Lambeth Council's Brixton Town Centre Redevelopment Plan. This never, thankfully happened: Brixton is deprived enough without having torn out its Victorian architecture to make way for concrete slabs. One of the original architect's models of this monstrous scheme survives: shown left is the view looking south across the motorway, complete with suspended restaurant (click to enlarge).

Staying on the south side of the railway, the motorway's next interchange would be at the A24 Clapham High Street, another local junction which would probably be the main access for Brixton. The route turns slightly northward here to reach the railway complex at Clapham Junction, where the motorway would have stayed to the south of the railway lines, dropping down below ground level to curve under the main line tracks to Waterloo and Victoria, joining the north side of the West London Line railway. A major free-flowing interchange would have been built, following railway tracks, to link the connecting spur south-west to Ringway 2's Western Section.

Now heading north-west from Clapham Junction, the motorway would cross the Thames parallel to the railway and become the West Cross Route.

History

Easily the most controversial part of Ringway 1, the South Cross Route would have blasted a path through several commercial centres in South London and involved the displacement of more than 30,000 people. It would also have been surprisingly inaccessible: only four local access points were planned, none with any adequate connection to the commercial heart of the area, Brixton.

Line of the 1971 tunnel proposal. Click to enlarge
Ringway 1 in Blackheath, with Buchanan's 1971 tunnel shown by dotted lines. Click to enlarge

Surprisingly, the most controversial issue at the time was nothing to do with this - it was actually about Blackheath, the "village" at the eastern end of the road near Kidbrooke Interchange. Residents there were worried that the peaceful, near-rural feel of the suburb would be ruined by the motorway carving through and Lewisham Borough Council pleaded for special consideration from the GLC.

In 1967, very shortly after Ringway 1 was first unveiled to the public, the Blackheath Motorway Action Group put forward a proposal that the section through Blackheath Village be re-routed slightly to the north of the town centre and placed in a bored tunnel. Four years later, in April 1971, a report to the GLC by Colin Buchanan suggested that this should be adopted as the final scheme. The local press remained concerned that it might not be adopted:

Newspaper headline"Although the GLC never formally agreed to this alternative, they showed distinct signs of sympathy and carried out trial borings on Blackheath, presumably to determine the feasibility of a deep tunnel big enough to accommodate an eight-lane road.

"These borings were done three years ago [1968] and despite continuous pressure by the Motorway Group the GLC has never made public the results of the borings."
South London Press, 9 April 1971

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South London Press, 9 April 1971
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A tunnel like this would, of course, be a huge undertaking. The consultants for the North Cross Route recommended that, should a bored tunnel under Belsize Park be preferred to a cut-and-cover one, then four two-lane tunnels should be dug rather than two four-lane bores. Tunnelling technology at the time meant that anything larger would be more complex and expensive.

Southwyck House, viewed from the motorway-facing sideUnfortunately the story tails off there - it appears that, despite all the debate, no decision was reached before the project was cancelled in 1973.

Indeed, unlike the other three sides of Ringway 1, not a single inch of the South Cross Route was ever built. But it still manages to cast a shadow over one small part of the route: Coldharbour Lane in Brixton, to be exact, where a building designed to reduce the impact of the noise and fumes it would create is still standing.

It's called the Barrier Block (an inviting name for a housing development if ever there was one - its official name is Southwyck House) and is known as a local eyesore. Its purpose was to save the Somerleyton Estate, which stands south of the building, from the motorway. One of its vast walls has only occasional, tiny windows, and was designed to face the motorway (shown left; click to enlarge). It leans outward at this point, each floor overhanging the last, in a design that was supposed to deflect noise from the motorway.

Image of Southwyck House taken from an original by Danny Robinson, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.