North Cross Route

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First unveiled in 1966 as part of the GLC's new "London Motorway Box" proposal, the North Cross Route was logically enough the northern flank of this circuit. In August 1966, the consultants Travers-Morgan published the North Cross Route Engineering Report, which set out firm proposals for the motorway - a route, a design specification, junction layouts and a full set of engineering plans. This means that (quite unusually) we have a very clear picture of how the North Cross Route was meant to look.

The motorway would have taken a slice through Harlesden, Kilburn, West Hampstead, Hampstead, Camden Town, Barnsbury and Islington. It sounds horrific today, but Islington was still a deprived area in the 60s, and much of the line of the motorway not attained its current desirable status. It was never going to be easy, however, to drive a motorway through Hampstead or Belsize Park. The plan would have ruined the leafy, wealthy character of the area by carving a cut-and-cover tunnel through it. This would also have involved the demolition of Sigmund Freud's house on Maresfield Gardens (now the Freud Museum). An alternative proposal, avoiding Belsize Park by boring four two-lane tunnels, was rejected on grounds of cost.

Outline map

Map image Continues from West Cross Route
Map image Links to M40 and Harlesden
Map image M1
Map image A41
Map image Belsize Park (cut-and-cover)
Map image Camden Town Bypass
Map image King's Cross (or PNLR)
Map image Dalston
Map image M11 and A12
Map image Continues to East Cross Route

The route

The North Cross Route was to begin at Harlesden, at a large free-flowing interchange built on derelict railway land immediately south-east of Willesden Junction station. It connected four separate roads - the West Cross Route heading south; the North Cross Route heading east; a link to the A40/M40 heading west and a "link to Harlesden" to the north. The latter was a grade-separated link road running parallel to the railway to connect with the Stonebridge Park junction on the A406 North Circular Road (which would, of course, have been Ringway 2). Today, Stonebridge Park is an over-engineered diamond interchange for a local road, perhaps hinting at its intended significance. At Willesden Junction, access would have also been provided to and from Harrow Road.

Heading east, the motorway would run alongside the north side of the North London Line in cutting, passing under all the existing roads. After crossing the A5 Kilburn High Road and the railway viaduct carrying (what are now) the Chiltern, Metropolitan and Jubilee Lines, there would be the first major junction, a free-flowing interchange where the M1 was to terminate. Since this little patch of (residential) land was almost hemmed in by railways and roads anyway, it was considered that this was the least obtrusive place for the junction.

From the M1 junction until Finchley Road, there would have been an extra carriageway on each side of the road to cater for the large turning movement: for traffic going right the way into central London from the M1, the A41 Finchley Road is the best route to use. The motorway would continue alongside the North London Line until West End Lane (West Hampstead), when it would pass under both the railway and the road.

Artist's impression of M1 interchange. Click to enlarge
Artist's impression of M1 interchange produced by Travers-Morgan. Click to enlarge

At Finchley Road, there would be a roundabout beneath the motorway, with extra slip roads to the W and S to serve the large turning movement at this junction. The location of the junction would be about where the "O2 Centre" now is, near to Finchley Road station. Very soon after the junction, the motorway would enter a cut-and-cover tunnel through Belsize Park where the ground rises. The diagram to the left shows the planned redevelopment once the tunnel was complete (click it for the full image).

Artist's impression of Belsize Park tunnel with redeveloped land above. Click to enlargeIt would emerge at Eton Avenue, and cross Adelaide Road. Bus bays would be provided at the now-closed Primrose Hill station, and the motorway would be elevated over what was then the Camden Goods Yard, owned by British Rail, but which is now a large supermarket. BR were not very happy about having a motorway - even on stilts - running over their goods yard, and so an alternative route, slightly further to the north, was proposed in case this was rejected. On plans the only surviving building sandwiched between these two alternative lines is the Camden Roundhouse.

There would be a junction with the proposed Camden Town Bypass on Chalk Farm Road. This would be a very expensive interchange to construct, due to the tight space involved: the site would be heavily constrained by the various railways, the goods yard, and the Regent's Canal. The resulting free-flowing interchange would have employed a double-deck viaduct, carrying the Camden Town Bypass over local roads, and the North Cross Route above that. All Ringway 1 traffic would be able to access the Bypass heading in towards London, but access to the northern arm of the Bypass heading away up Camden Road would only have been to and from the west. Local access roads at this point were to connect only to the Bypass.

The diagram below shows the connections planned at the interchange, but not the layout: a plan diagram is difficult to follow because of the double-deck arrangement. It also omits the proposed bus bays at this location, which add an extra layer of complexity.

Schematic of Camden Interchange. Click to enlarge
Schematic plan of Camden Interchange (not to scale). Click to enlarge

East of Camden, the motorway continue to follow railway lines, crossing the East Coast Main Line railway where a local interchange was planned. The consultants' plans included a design for a free-flow interchange at this point if the PNLR was built.

The motorway would cross the North London Line near Highbury Corner (A1), running in a cutting below the square on the south side of the railway line. Rising above ground level, a complex interchange was to be provided at Dalston on the A10, either with a compact set of sliproads joining a gyratory system formed from existing streets, or with a large free-flow interchange connecting to other upgraded roads in the vicinity. The route then continued on the North London Line railway to approach the East Cross Route at Hackney Wick. The extended M11 would connect at this junction, along with the A12 Eastway.

Artist's impression of Dalston interchange
Artist's impression of free-flow interchange at Dalston, one of three possible layouts

Variations

It is known that the North Cross Route was considered for terminating a number of other motorways. Three interchanges could have been upgraded from motorway-to-surface street to incorporate a motorway connection: the "Proposed North London Radial" and M11 Lea Valley Route could both have finished this way. What became the inward continuation of the M11 to Angel could once have taken a line south from the A10 junction on Ringway 1 instead of west from Hackney Wick in order to avoid high land values and scarce parkland.

History

Late in 1967, the Daily Express ran an article taking delight in the fact that Barbara Castle, then Minister for Transport, had just bought a new flat in John Spencer Square, Canonbury, to find that it was overlooking the planned route of the North Cross Route.

we were told there would be some road improvements... but we didn't look into it any further

"Mrs. Castle's Ministry will transform the vista from the sitting-room window into a noisy, bustling panorama of earth movers, cranes, bulldozers, pneumatic drills and cement lorries.

"This proposed highway scheme was all news to Mr. Castle.

"'W-H-A-T!' he said yesterday, when he heard some of the grim details. 'We were told there would be some road improvements, arranged long before my wife became Minister, but we didn't look into it any further.'"

The Daily Express, 28 November 1967

It turns out, of course, that the story is not quite as juicy as it might seem. A memo following up from the story, from a Christopher Hall at the Ministry of Transport, notes that the block of flats were new, and had been designed by Sir Basil Spence with the future motorway in mind. In fact, the biggest concern is possibly a charge of dereliction of duty on the part of Mr Castle: he was Vice-Chairman of the GLC's Highways and Traffic Committee at the time, which was overseeing the Ringway proposals. Perhaps he hadn't been paying much attention at the meetings.

It's tempting to say that none of the North Cross Route was ever built. But that's not quite true, because 221m (241 yards) of the eastbound carriageway does exist. It's at Hackney Wick, the junction where it would have become the East Cross Route. The southbound entrance from the A106 goes up a temporary ramp and then runs for the aforementioned distance with most of the extra-wide road surface painted out, before forming a right-hand entry to the East Cross Route. This short section of road would have been the final few yards of the eastbound North Cross Route.

With thanks to Lorenzo for information on this page.