North Circular Road

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The North Circular is rather different to the rest of the Ringways proposals for a number of reasons. Like the East Cross Route, it already existed by the time the GLC's motorway plans were forming themselves into a coherent network. In fact by the 1960s it was already of a markedly better standard than most of the other roads in suburban North London, having undergone widenings, junction improvements and dualling schemes between the wars and through the 1950s. This put it instantly in a better position than its partner the South Circular which was (and still is) virtually unimproved since it was first designated in the 1920s.

The real difference (and the cause of the better standard of road) was that the A406 North Circular Road was a trunk route, managed by the Ministry of Transport and out of the GLC's control. While the two government bodies worked together on developing road schemes in the London area, having half of Ringway 2 controlled by an entirely different organisation created differences in the type of improvements, their scale and their timing.

Outline map

Map image Continues to R2 Western Link
Map image A40/M40 (Hanger Lane)
Map image Local connections to Wembley & Willesden
Map image Harlesden Link (leading to Ringway 1)
Map image Local connections to Neasden
Map image M1 and A5 (Staples Corner)
Map image Local connections to Brent & Hendon
Map image A1
Map image Local connections to Finchley, Hornsey & Southgate
Map image A10
Map image Local connections to Edmonton & Walthamstow
Map image M11 & M12 (Woodford Interchange)
Map image Continues to R2 Eastern Section

The route

When the rest of Ringway 2 was unveiled in the summer of 1969, the North Circular was already a work in progress. While it became part of the sparkling new Ringway 2 proposal in July of that year, comprehensive plans to improve the road had existed for several years and in some cases had already been set in motion.

Brent Cross flyover
Brent Cross Flyover on the North Circular, an early improvement opened in about 1960

In June 1961 the Ministry of Transport produced a report setting out proposals for "comprehensive improvement" of the North Circular, with major works taking place before 1968 and a second stage progressing after that. In that time it was proposed that the whole road should be overhauled, with junctions taking priority in order to remove bottlenecks and the sections between major junctions being widened or upgraded in the later stages. In some cases an interim improvement was to be made, where the design would allow for a larger grade-separated junction a few years down the line. The result was to be a fully widened, dualled and grade-separated North Circular by about 1980. Virtually all of the work was to take place on-line. The plans at this stage did not include the section between the M11 and A13. It seems that the Ministry of Transport accepted the proposals, but not the rapid timescale, and set about making improvements as time and finances allowed.

Sample of proposed junction layoutOutline plans exist indicating the junction improvements planned at every interchange point on the road; in some cases indicating both the 'stage 1' and 'stage 2' layouts. The example on the left was proposed for the junction with the B550 at Colney Hatch. Therefore the type and configuration of each interchange is known, but no engineering plans were drawn up so their exact scale and placement on the landscape is very vague. Nonetheless, this allows a fairly accurate picture to be drawn up of what was planned for the whole road.

These proposals do contain a few surprises. At A40 Western Avenue a diamond interchange (with the A40 in an underpass) already existed, and it was proposed that this be left in-situ, even though the bridge carrying the North Circular was only single carriageway. Further study was to be carried out to ascertain the sort of junction that would be necessary. Ringway thinking would seem to suggest a free-flow interchange.


Though not a six or eight lane motorway, as the south side of Ringway 2 was intended to be, the North Circular comes close sometimes. Progress on the 1962 plan declined towards the end of the decade, and the road has been upgraded piecemeal since then. Many of the improvements made in the 1970s and early 1980s look like resurrected motorway schemes: some come complete with hard shoulders and provide wide, sweeping alignments suitable for an urban motorway. Others are smaller in scale and indicate that original plans have been redrawn or scaled down to reduce their cost and impact.

Cutting at Woodford
Ten lanes in a deep trench on the North Circular at Woodford approaching the M11

Today most sections of the road are a motorway in all but name, and there are plenty of hints towards the repeated use of recycled motorway plans. But the road is only partly Ringway 2 in disguise: there are numerous weak spots, particularly the road's crashing halt at Hanger Lane on the A40 and the couple of points where it returns to being a slow road running through a residential area, most notoriously at Bounds Green where it is briefly a single-carriageway.