The M53

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This page spent three years in a section of CBRD called 'Botched Plans'. No other plans ever appeared there, and in November 2004 I put that section out of its misery, moving its only feature over to Histories. It is presented here unchanged, which explains why it isn't quite like other pages in the Histories section.

What was the plan?

Original plan

The M53's original mission was to connect Liverpool and Birkenhead, via the Mersey Tunnels, to Cheshire and north Wales. It was to do this by connecting up the Tunnel to the A55 somewhere near Ewloe, south of the present Queensferry Bridge. It would probably have had junctions through the Wirral built-up area, on the western side of Ellesmere Port and with the A5117 before a new bridge over the Dee to terminate on the A55.

It's logical to assume that the M56 extension would have brought it further west to the M53 had the west-of-Chester plan gone ahead.

What happened?

1972

By 1972, the Wirral section of the M53 was built to dual-three lane standard and was open, with traffic whizzing happily along it from end to end. It finished at what we now know as junction 5, which was then part of the Ellesmere Port bypass, an A-road built to relieve the town centre some years earlier. Shortly before the M53 ended, the interchange was built ready for when the M53 would continue south.

Late 1970's

By the late 1970s, the Ellesmere Port Bypass was carrying a large amount of traffic and, despite its very closely spaced junctions, was upgraded by the Department of Transport to a motorway. Since it would eventually become a spur of the completed M53, it was given a spur number, M531. This led to the odd situation where the M53 simply turned into the M531, though it was quite clear what was going on since the M53 dropped from three lanes to two and left the main carriageway of the motorway onto sliproads.

The Current Situation

What happened next can hardly be described as an event, because nothing happened. To put it more precisely, the M53 southern section didn't get built. In the mid 1980s, the Department gave up waiting, and renumbered the M531 to the M53. This my have cut a corner for the government, but it left traffic going the long way round.

What's there now?

The M53 scheme is a fine tribute to a bigger plan that never saw the light of day. Take a trip along it and you'll be able to experience these impressive sights...

M53/M531 interchange

The most obvious sight is the unfinished junction where the M53 should have continued south with the M531 turning off. The bridge is there and everything, so northbound traffic is treated to a trip through a bridge that has carried nothing since it was built 30 years ago.

This is the point where the three lane motorway to the north becomes the two-lane substandard motorway to the south. This unfinished junction also comes complete with a short stub of land bought up just to the south in case you're not sure where the M53 would go from here.

Update: it seems that the flyover visible in the aerial photo is no longer present. It was removed in 1999 or 2000.

Junction 3

What on earth is going on here? Evidence of how big the M53 scheme was meant to be - this over-built junction with the A552, further up the Wirral. The single carriageway A552 becomes dual carriageway just for the duration of this junction, where it manages to fly two levels over the M53 and set down sliproads to the roundabout.

What exactly was planned for the A552 that it needed to be dualled and grade-separated at this junction?

Junction 2

More junction silliness at the next junction up - the A551 has a short spur from the M53 here, which leaves the motorway at this enormous junction. It's a huge land-wasting free flow interchange of the type some proper motorways like the M180 can only dream about. How much traffic did they expect would leave here?

Tim Radford adds:

"When I was at school on the Wirral in the 1970s I vaguely remember fanciful talk of a crossing over the Dee estuary towards the Point of Ayr. I always assumed the A551 spur was built in readiness for this."

What next?

The government has no plans whatsoever to add to or improve the M53. Ho hum.

With thanks to Tom Oldershaw and Gary Haymans for information on this page.