Learn more about London Ringways
The London Ringways were a series of four ring roads planned in the 1960s to circle London at various distances from the city centre. They were part of a comprehensive scheme developed by the Greater London Council to alleviate traffic congestion on the city's road system by providing high speed motorway-standard roads within the capital linking a series of radial roads taking traffic into and out of the city. The scheme was cancelled in 1973 at which point only three sections in the central had been constructed.
- Ringway 1 - The London Motorway box, comprising the North, East, South and West Cross Routes.
- Ringway 2 - Upgrade of North Circular Road and replacement for South Circular Road.
- Ringway 3 - A new road, the north section of which became part of the M25.
- Ringway 4 - A new road, the south section of which became part of the M25.
 The Highway Development Survey, 1937
In 1937, Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Charles Bressey published a Ministry of Transport report, The Highway Development Survey, which reviewed London's road needs and recommended the construction of many miles of new roads and the improvement of junctions at key congestion points. Amongst their proposals was the provision of a series of orbital roads around the city with the outer ones built as American-style Parkways - wide, landscaped roads with limited access and grade separated junctions.
 County of London Plan, 1940s
The Ringway plan had developed from early schemes prior to the Second World War through Sir Patrick Abercrombie's County of London Plan, 1943 and Greater London Plan, 1944. One of the topics that Abercrombie's two plans had examined was London's traffic congestion, and The County of London Plan proposed a series of ring roads labelled A to E to help remove traffic from the central area.
Even in a war ravaged city with large areas requiring reconstruction, the building of the two innermost rings, A and B, would have involved considerable demolition and upheaval. The cost of the construction works needed to upgrade the existing London streets and roads to dual carriageway or motorway standards would have been enormous. Abercrombie's plans were not intended to be carried out immediately but were, instead, an examination of the longer term options that the need to rebuild the capital might offer for the future. The post-war austerity period meant that very little of his plan was carried out.
 Ringway Scheme, 1960s
By the start of the 1960s the number of private cars and commercial vehicles on the roads had increased considerably from the number before the war. The narrow and largely unplanned roads in central London were straining to contain the traffic load and it was time to address the issue of traffic congestion in the capital.
The Ringway plan took Abercrombie's earlier schemes as a starting point and reused much of his proposals in the outer-lying areas but scrapped the plans in the inner zone. Abercrombie's A Ring was scrapped as being far to expensive and impractical. The innermost circuit, Ringway 1, was approximately the same distance from the centre as the B Ring, and it used some of Abercrombie's suggested route, but it was planned to use existing transport corridors such as railway lines much more than before. The location of these lines produced a ring that was distinctly box-shaped and Ringway 1 was unofficially called the London Motorway Box.
The 1960s plans were developed over a period of several years and were subject to a continuing process of review and modification. Roads were added and omitted as the overall scheme was altered and many alternative route alignments were considered during the planning process. The plan was published in stages starting with Ringway 1 in 1966 and Ringway 2 in 1967.
The plan was hugely ambitious and met, almost immediately, with opposition from a number of directions. The Treasury and the Department of Transport both tried to have the project cancelled because of the cost.
Despite the opposition from central government the GLC continued to develop its plans and began the construction of some of the earlier parts of the scheme. The plan, still with much of the detail to be worked out, was included in the Greater London Development Plan, 1969 (GLDP) along with much else not related to roads and traffic management. In 1970, the GLC estimated for the Treasury that the cost of building just Ringway 1 was £1.7billion (about £18billion in 2006) three-quarters of which would have to come from central government grants.
A public enquiry was held to review the GLDP in a climate of strong and vocal opposition from many of the London Borough councils and residents associations that would have seen the motorways driven through their areas. By 1972, in an attempt to placate the plan's opponents, the GLC removed the northern section of Ringway 1 and the southern section of Ringway 2 from the proposals and in January 1973, the enquiry recommended that Ringway 1 be built but that much of the rest of the Ringway schemes be omitted. The project went to the cabinet for approval and for a short period it appeared that the scheme would proceed; however, concerned at the continuing opposition within London and the rising cost, the cabinet cancelled the project.
In the central London area only the East Cross Route and part of the West Cross Route of Ringway 1 were constructed together with the elevated Westway which links Paddington to North Kensington. These were all begun and completed before the plan was cancelled and, with its elevated roadway on concrete pylons flying above the streets below at roof top height, the Westway provides a good example of how much of Ringway 1 would have appeared had it been constructed.
Improvements have been made to the North Circular Road (A406) section of Ringway 2 over the decades since the plan was cancelled so that most of it is now dual carriageway. The improvements; however, have been done in a piecemeal fashion so that the road varies in quality and capacity along its length and still has several unimproved single carriageway sections. By comparison, very little has been done to improve the condition of the South Circular Road (A205) and no part of the southern part of Ringway 2 has been built, mainly because of the density of the residential areas through which the South Circular runs. The road remains predomiantly single carriageway throughout.
Parts of Ringways 3 and 4 were started soon after Ringway 1 was cancelled. The first section of the northern half of Ringway 3 was constructed between South Mimms and Potters Bar and opened in 1975. The first section of Ringway 4 was built between Godstone and Reigate and opened in 1976. Before the first of these opened, the planned north and east sections of Ringway 3 and the planned south and west sections of Ringway 4 were combined as the M25 (the northern part was initially designated as the M16). The remaining sections of these two circular routes were never built.
A number of the radial routes that were planned to connect to the Ringway system were built much as planned - notably the M1 and M4. Other radial roads, such as the M3 or M23, were truncated in outer London far from their intended terminal junctions on Ringway 1 or simply not built at all in a form recognisable from the Ringway proposal.