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Route of the M56

The M56 is sometimes rather poetically described as the "North Cheshire motorway", and runs from Greater Manchester to Chester, with connections to the Wirral and North Wales.

At its Manchester end, the M56 is one of very few roads to present a metaphysical problem. It appears to stop end-on with the A5103 Princess Parkway, but at just the point where it ends, a spur branches off towards the M60 and Stockport. The Sharston Spur, as it's known, is longer than the remaining stub of motorway. It branches off at what appears to be the terminus of the M56, but the junction is number 3, and junctions 1 and 2 are then located on the spur. So is the spur actually the mainline of the M56? It's called a spur, and it looks like one, being much narrower than the M56 proper just beyond it. But it has numbered junctions and it connects the M56 to another motorway, which the main route doesn't. Perhaps it's a hybrid — in which case we might need a new word. Is it a mainspur? A spuline? Or maybe a spainlur?

Traffic running between the M6 from the south and the M56 towards Manchester is not catered for at the M6/M56 junction. Instead, this traffic is directed to leave a junction early and follow the A556 through the villages of Mere and Bucklow Hill. Work started on the desperately-needed bypass for this route started in 2015, after decades of prevarication. It's astonishing to think that the route between Greater Manchester and all points south — including the West Midlands and London — continues to rely on this single-carriageway road.

The M56 has no junction 13. Conspiracy theorists might have you believe it was reserved for the southward extension of the M57 Liverpool Outer Ring Road, but there's a little thing in the way called the Mersey, which is a good mile or two wide at this point and there's no evidence that plans existed to bridge it. A more likely reason is to provide for future expansion of the Stanlow oil refinery or other nearby industrial complexes.

At the western end of the route, the M56 has been extended more than once. At first it stopped at junction 14, but the A5117 from there onwards was badly congested, so it was extended to reach the M53 and then further west to another point on the A5117. A final extension — just a short one, removing the terminal roundabout so that the road free-flows into the A-road beyond — opened in the mid-2000s and completes the route towards North Wales.


Start Cheadle (M60)
Finish Chester (A494)
Passes Manchester [air], Warrington, Runcorn, Ellesmere Port
Length 34 miles
Connects to M6, M53, M60

With thanks to Roy Greenwood, Bob Henshaw, Peter Edwardson and Tony Moore for information in this section.