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History of the M55

Motorway History M55, Lancashire

M55

W M Johnson MBE BEng CEng FICE FIHT

CONTENTS

Foreword

Origins

Organisation

Development.

A Cloud on the Horizon the RCUs

Development (continued)

The feeder roads

The Blackpool Lateral Road / Fylde Coast Easterly By Pass

The Squires Gate Link Road and the Town Centre Link

ILLUSTRATIONS

M55 near Peel junction looking west towards Blackpool in 1999.

Note the gantry in the right background with variable message

signs giving indications of the room available in the car parks and

the brown tourist sign listing various local attractions....


M55 The Blackpool Motorway

Foreword

The purpose of this note is to amplify the information available in other published documents on the origins of M55, the Blackpool Motorway and its feeder roads. It does not attempt to duplicate information contained in other documents in this archive but to cover, particularly, the gestation of the M55 and its tributaries. The title which I have employed, M55, the Blackpool Motorway, was by no means universally used to describe the road; at least six separate and distinct names applied at different times. The opening brochure refers to the road as the Preston Northern By Pass and this title, which, in my view, does not adequately describe the road and somewhat diminishes its significance, was commonly employed at that time. Not too long previously, the description East West By Pass of Preston was used as the title of a 1969 feasibility study. Though it is, at times, somewhat anachronistic to refer to the road in the period covered by this account as M55, it has the virtue of brevity and I have used it extensively. I have mentioned some of the other titles as they appear in minutes and other documents.

Unlike other papers which I have contributed to this Archive, I had no direct personal involvement in the planning, design or construction of this road and the note is mainly derived from a study of the minutes of the pre-1974 Lancashire County Councils Highways and Bridges Committee[1] and of the post-1974 Highways and Transportation Committee[2]. The limitations of the study were suspected from the beginning but became clearer as the work proceeded and are described in the text. I am also conscious of deficiencies in the coverage of construction though, from what I have been able to ascertain, by the standards of the time, there were few problems worthy of historical mention. The staff of the resident engineer and of the contractors would no doubt feel that normal problems were quite sufficient.

I am grateful for the help which I have received from many quarters. As usual, the staff of the Lancashire County Records Office have been of great assistance and it has been pleasant to revisit my old office and experience the cheerful help and hospitality freely given by Graham Harding, the Environment Director and by old friends among his staff and among former colleagues

Those who are aware of one of my leisure interests will not be surprised that two illustrations in the body of the text both show aircraft. My excuse is that both are relevant to the M55 and its feeder roads. To those offended by this imbalance, I apologise but not very sincerely. For some excellent aeronautical photographs I am indebted to the PR Department of British Aerospace (Operations) Limited at Warton Aerodrome who also, innocently and helpfully, gave me a lesson in mortality. When I specified which photographs I was looking for, I happened to mention that they were originally taken in 1975. I don't think many of us were born then, was the response. O tempora, O mores.

Origins

As with most other post-war roads in Lancashire, the origins of the M55 can be traced back to the Road Plan for Lancashire published by the County Council in 1949, the authorship of which can be reasonably attributed to James Drake. If he didn't actually write every word he was undoubtedly the driving force behind it. James (later Sir James) Drake joined the Lancashire County Council as County Surveyor and Bridgemaster[3] in 1945. Immediately prior to his appointment, he had been Borough Surveyor of Blackpool and, even in that job, he had evinced a real interest in motorways having been on trips to study continental examples and having advocated a motorway ring around Blackpool. One is tempted to observe that the western limb of such a road might have presented interesting constructional problems. On reaching Lancashire, he wasted no time in applying himself to the County's highway problems and the Road Plan was a comprehensive attempt to address them. Proposals for future roads were backed by accident and cost studies of a pioneering type and the books proposals have, in many cases, been realised.

As far as what ultimately became known as the M55 is concerned, the Plan included, in what was described as the 2nd Group of Roads, a proposal with the following description:

Route 263 Blackpool Route 1 (Broughton) Motorway link from Blackpool to the North-South motorway at Broughton. A new road throughout commencing on the proposed Blackpool Ring Road (Route 271) just within the boundary and proceeding eastwards to its termination on Route 1. Dual 2 lane carriageways are proposed from Blackpool to Route 269 south of Esprick and dual 3 for the remainder of the route.

Route 1 eventually became M6. Route 269 was a proposed connection from Route 263 to Fleetwood. Route 271 was a gleam in the eye of Blackpool Borough but has not, so far, been built. M55 was actually constructed to dual 3 lane standards from M6 to the western end of motorway at its junction with A583 near Peel corner. Like many motorways, M55 gave rise to proposals for connecting or feeder roads which will be described later.

Organisation

As has been seen, the road originated with a proposal from the Lancashire County Council[4]. Lancashire County Council, before April 1974, was the highway authority for all non-trunk classified roads outside county boroughs and for all non-trunk roads outside urban areas. Blackpool, except in the period from 1974 to 1998, was a County Borough (currently described as a unitary authority) and was highway authority in its own right. After 1974, the County Council was, in reality, a different authority though, confusingly, given the same name. It became the highway authority for all non-trunk roads in the (smaller) county and Blackpool lost its unitary status and, consequently, its direct highway responsibilities.

Roads of the importance of the Blackpool motorway were usually trunk roads for which the government took responsibility. There was often pressure from local highway authorities to get roads trunked in order to relieve them of the financial burden of construction and maintenance even though, in the process, some control and even influence was lost. Until 1967, the County Council, acting as agent of the appropriate government department, maintained and constructed all trunk roads in the County. Its influence over the trunk road programme was considerable and direct access to the relevant minister could usually be obtained. In 1967, Road Construction Units (RCUs) were formed by the government to control the planning, design and construction of trunk roads, including trunk road motorways, costing over 1 million. This and subsequent events are covered in more detail, beginning on page 8.

Like many motorways, the M55 gave rise to much development of all kinds and also to a number of tributaries or feeder roads. In the case of the M55, a Town Centre Link which took the form of the Central Railway route, later named Yeadon Way[5] in honour of the first County Surveyor of the new, post 1974, Lancashire County Council, was clearly an extension, in much modified form and concept, of the Blackpool motorway. The Squires Gate Link also helped to distribute traffic from the M55 within the urban Fylde area. This note will touch on both of these new roads starting on page 23. One glaring gap in these feeder roads is the Fylde Coast Easterly By Pass; conceived as a distributor road for the Fylde coast towns, it could also form a higher standard route for trunk road traffic to the port of Fleetwood. Its convoluted history is also described starting on page 18. It should be noted that, from an organisational viewpoint, the Blackpool County Borough Council was the highway authority for all roads within the Borough up to April 1974 and again from April 1998; in the intervening period, the County Council was responsible.

The chief officer of both pre and post 1974 County Councils responsible for the design, construction and maintenance of roads, either directly for the County Council in the case of non-trunk roads or as agent for the responsible government ministry or department in the case of, until the formation of RCUs (see page 8), most trunk roads, possessed, until 1999, the resounding title of County Surveyor and Bridgemaster. Holders of this office in the period covered by this document were

1945-1973 James (later Sir James) Drake CBE

1973-1974 J R (Jim) Ingram

1974-1985 Harry L Yeadon[6]

1985-1993 Michael F Callery OBE

1993-date Graham P Harding [7]

Development

Whilst the origins of the M55 are contained, along with those of many other roads, in the Road Plan for Lancashire of 1949, the first specific mention in the minutes of the Highways and Bridges Committee of the County Council comes in November 1952. James Drake was presenting a report on the North-South Motorway and was highlighting the Preston By Pass section of that motorway. In his report and on the plans incorporated in it, he showed a Blackpool Motorway Link, effectively fixing the northern end of the By Pass on A6 at a point just south of Broughton. Far be it from me to suggest that James Drake was being a shade Machiavellian in this there is no doubt that the position chosen for the northern end of the By Pass was, from an engineering point of view, the logical start of a Blackpool link but the congestion caused when traffic from the south attempted to negotiate Broughton traffic signals on A6 undoubtedly did the case for a northward extension of the M6 motorway no harm. The line of the Preston By Pass and thus the logical starting point of the Blackpool link was approved early in 1954.

In 1958, the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, after pressure from the County Council and Blackpool County Borough (CB) Council, agreed that the proposed link would be treated as a trunk road in substitution for the existing trunk road, A583, which it was to replace. 1958 was, of course, the year in which the first British motorway, the Preston By Pass section of M6, opened to traffic.

Pressure by the County Council supported by Blackpool now becomes the prevalent theme of the minutes of the Highways and Bridges Committee[8]. There is not the slightest doubt that similar, oft repeated, pressure by the County Council was responsible for much of Lancashire's pre-eminence in motorway construction. The fact that it also, necessarily, irritated the civil servants who were subjected to it and the fact that civil servants tend to influence their ministers may have played some part in the subsequent formation of RCUs and in the later cutting down to size of the County of Lancashire but more of this later.

In 1959, for example, the Committee decided to press the Minister for 6 schemes instead of concentrating on the Broughton to Blackpool motorway link but, by July of the following year, they had added 6 more schemes. Perhaps they were spurred on by a report from the Chief Constable which he titled Easter Traffic Congestion and in which he referred to traffic backed up for six miles on the Preston-Blackpool road, A583, on the Easter Saturday and Monday. In the latest shopping list, the road was described as Blackpool motorway link a new route from Preston By Pass at Broughton to the Blackpool Borough boundary. The production of an illustrated book was agreed to help their campaign.

Lancashire's claims, in 1961, received the support of the Lancashire and Merseyside Industrial Development Association. The design of what was now referred to as the Broughton Interchange (with the North South Motorway, M6) was changed to take account of the increased traffic volumes and the particular traffic movements which would occur when the Blackpool Motorway was constructed. Note the use of the word when, not if.

The Divisional Road Engineer (DRE) of the Ministry of Transport (MoT)[9], based in Manchester, occasionally attended meetings of the Highways and Bridges Committee and probably expected, in January 1963, his customary grilling. He was not disappointed. Although motorway programming was, strictly, not his concern, when pressed he stated that there was no chance of the Blackpool motorway link being started by 1964. The Minister, he said, was giving priority to roads carrying commercial traffic. He ought to have known that the County Surveyor and his Committee would have a reply to that! The predominant traffic, other than cars, on the road to Blackpool was, of course, coaches so he was asked, what are coaches, if not commercial? Probably at a loss for an adequate response, the minutes note that the DRE appeared to accept the point. Quick to seize his opportunity, Mr Drake suggested that survey work should be carried out and a line fixed without prejudice to the programming of the scheme. Down, but not quite out, the DRE agreed to refer this to his HQ.

Two strands in the campaign were emerging. Firstly there was direct pressure for the motorway to Blackpool in which the Borough Council acted as convenor though the County Council was clearly a power behind the scenes. Secondly the M55 was promoted as one of a number of motorways and other main routes in Lancashire in which the County Council properly took charge. In support of the former, the Chairman and Vice Chairman attended a meeting with Blackpool on 30th July 1963. A supporting document resulted prepared by the County Surveyor of Lancashire, the Borough Surveyors of Blackpool, Fleetwood, Lytham St Annes and Preston, the Surveyors to Poulton-le-Fylde and Thornton Cleveleys Urban District Councils, and the Surveyors to Fylde and Preston Rural District Councils. The document was ready by January 1964 and was to be used to lobby MP's and to accompany a delegation which the Minister would be asked to meet. The Town Clerk of Blackpool was to write to the Minister to ask him for a meeting.

The second strand was taken forward at the same Committee meeting in February 1964 at which the members endorsed the officers report on M55 and agreed to use it as a basis for lobbying. A sub committee, which had been appointed in December 1963 to consider ways and means of bringing pressure to bear on the Minister of Transport to ensure that schemes were carried out as soon as possible, reported. They recommended that the highest priority should be given to certain roads not yet in a government programme and the Broughton-Blackpool Motorway Link 12 miles long and estimated to cost 9 million came second in their priority list. The Committee asked for a delegation to the Minister to consider these roads. This delegation was, of course, additional to the one proposed specifically for the Blackpool motorway. Clearly, the Minister was getting a little fed-up at all these requests for meetings and replied that there wasn't much point in seeing him at this stage but, if they wanted to send a delegation, they could see the Permanent Secretary.

The voice of the senior career civil servant was apparent in the delegations report of their meeting. The Permanent Secretary said that programme's for new roads were settled up to 1967-68 and would soon be rolled-forward to the following year. He gave no other specific information on programming and stated that the priority schemes selected by the Committee would be of considerable value to his Department but etc., etc. He did agree that surveys and other preliminary works could be carried out at once in the case of the Broughton-Blackpool motorway link on the clear understanding that the Ministry were not committed to any programme date. Readers may recall that the DRE, just over 12 months previously, had agreed to request his HQ to agree to this facility and it would, one thinks, have been fairly simple to reply more promptly and more cheaply in writing. The costs of the delegation were not helped by the fact that one County Councillor flew to the meeting a rather exotic step in those days and his expenses were reimbursed. In the light of this rather unsatisfactory excursion, the Committee, after further discussions with Blackpool, decided that, while there was little chance of the Minister agreeing to meet a delegation, efforts should continue to be made to persuade him. They also agreed to pay 137 1s 6d being one third of the cost of printing 500 copies of the joint report.

Perhaps the DRE received a slight telling-off for his previous willingness to talk to Lancashire about motorways because when, in early 1965, he met a special sub committee, he emphasised that he would only give motorway programming information confidentially. When the County Surveyor reported on this meeting to the Committee, he did so verbally so we have no record of what, if anything, was said.

A preliminary survey, estimated to cost 14,500 of which 11,600 was the estimated cost of an aerial survey, was approved by the Ministry in September. When the tenders were received for the survey, the lowest, from Kings Aerial Surveys Ltd, was approved. I am tempted to write that it was accepted with alacrity; it certainly ought to have been as the cost was 4,795 comfortably less than half the estimate!

The Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Regional Development, in mid 1964, decided to carry out a Regional Study of the North West. Almost before he had voiced his intention, the County Surveyor and the County Planning Officer had prepared a joint memorandum to put before their respective committees. In it, specific mention was made of the link from Blackpool to the M6 in the following terms: "If this road were built by 1970, the total saving in one year in running time, in the operating cost of vehicles and in the saving in accidents would amount to 47% of the capital cost of building the road; the nett reduction in accidents per year is estimated to be 511 of which 17 would be fatal.

In late 1964, an event which affected the westerly termination of the road (now referred to as the Blackpool and Fylde Coast Motorway) and its tributaries occurred. Blackpool Central Station and the railway line from there to South Station were closed. It was therefore proposed and agreed by Committee in February 1965 that an investigation should be carried out into the re siting of the westerly part of the road in the county area so as to fit in with the new proposals of Blackpool Corporation for the construction of a new road along the disused railway line to join the existing Blackpool-Preston road (A583) a short distance on the Blackpool side of Peel Railway Bridge. By September, they were happy enough to approve the submission of a draft scheme under Section 11 of the Highways Act 1959 to establish the line of the Blackpool Motorway.

One has a feeling that there could be such a thing as too much pressure on the government though, clearly, neither the Committee nor Blackpool thought so. Apart from a general new roads campaign which the Committee agreed to take forward in conjunction with the British Road Federation (BRF), a further delegation to the Minister on the Blackpool motorway was proposed by Blackpool and agreed by the Committee in February 1966. One senses an air of exasperation in the Ministers response. She [did] not feel that there was anything more that a deputation could tell [her] about the case for this road. One wonders, bearing in mind the political allegiances of the Minister and of Blackpool, whether the reply would have been quite so negative had the request come from Lancashire directly. She said, however, in her reply, that the scheme would be considered for inclusion in the next extension of the programme for the 1970s but there was no prospect of earlier inclusion.

A Cloud on the Horizon the RCUs

The first rumblings of a proposal from the Minister to centralise control of design and construction of all trunk (government owned) roads, including motorways, of any magnitude were heard in the land. The County Councils Association sounded out views nationally on the proposal to form regional Road Construction Units (RCUs) to build trunk roads estimated to cost over 1 million. In mid 1966, the Committee considered the matter and decided to raise no major objection. This may seem, with the benefit of hindsight, to have been a big mistake but it is doubtful whether any reservations made by Lancashire or any other county would have had much effect.

There is no doubt that, to central government, there were considerable advantages in the proposal. Despite the fact that they were regionally based, the RCUs, being staffed by temporary or permanent civil servants, would clearly be more amenable to government control than independently minded county councils. These latter organisations varied from large, efficient authorities with the necessary design resources and expertise to small authorities which possessed neither. Large and capable authorities, like Lancashire, must have been a considerable nuisance in the corridors of power.

To the county councils formerly acting as trunk road agents, the advantages were less clear cut. They would, in the case of the larger authorities, obviously lose some influence but the national interest seemed to justify some levelling-out. In Lancashire's case, they were largely mollified by a request from the Minister to lend James Drake, their County Surveyor, to the Ministry to be the first head of the first RCU which was to be located in Preston[10]. Many members of the staff of his Department were seconded either to the Preston headquarters of the North West RCU, or to the Lancashire Sub Unit, co-located with the County Surveyors Department. With these people in high places, the Committee probably thought that they would be all right. Indeed, James Drake, in his capacity as Director of the NWRCU, returned to the Committee from time to time to give an account of what was going on but his presentations were verbal and were not minuted. No doubt individual Committee members were kept in the picture by James Drake but this must have been done in confidence; his new, if temporary, employers might not have approved of such contacts.

It is easy, again with the benefit of hindsight, to see the formation of the RCUs in 1967 as the beginning of the end, as far as Lancashire's considerable influence in trunk road matters is concerned. The progression from RCUs in 1967 to the Highways Agency of today seems now to be fairly obvious. There is no doubt that the reduction in Committee references to the need for new roads from 1967 onwards is not just a product of the temporary absence of a dynamic chief officer though that was obviously a contributory factor. On James Drakes return to the County Council in December 1968, there had been no specific Committee reference to the M55 scheme for 22 months.

One of the sops offered to county councils when RCUs were set up was the promise of an annual meeting between the Director of each unit and representatives of each of the regions county councils. Meetings were certainly held but a measure of their perceived importance to Lancashire may be gauged from the fact that no formal reports on what occurred were made to the relevant County Council committee. Although the dates of the meetings and the make-up of the delegations were approved in advance,[11] according to the minutes, there was not even a verbal report on the proceedings for most, if not all, of the RCUs existence.

This must have been seen as unsatisfactory on all sides because, in 1971, a national Central Consultative Committee was set up. As far as Lancashire's Highways and Bridges Committee was concerned, the only difference this appeared to make was an additional meeting, in London, for one representative each year. Again, no reports to the Committee on what, if anything, happened at these meetings were minuted until the first of a series of reports appeared in March 1987. The long absence of reports on both types of meeting was despite the fact that the Chairman and/or Vice Chairman were usually, if not always, involved and regular reports to Committee were made on action they had taken on various other matters under their delegated powers.

To jump well ahead of this point in the narrative, the abolition of the sub units in the 1980s was another indication of the way in which national politicians, abetted and even encouraged by some civil servants, could continue the erosion of county councils influence in trunk road matters. In his report published in March 1980, Sir Derek Rayner who had been appointed to study the issue by the government proposed the abolition of sub units and, rather surprisingly, the County Council did not object. They reasoned that, if there were no sub units, matters would revert to the old system whereby the work, instead of being carried out by RCUs, was done by county councils as agents of the government. Little did they know!!! They obviously didn't reckon on the determination of the then government to privatise. This meant that consultants were given the lions share[12] of design and supervision and the staff of what had been a proud and effective team were dispersed and diluted.

Development (continued)

The County Council initiatives, which had been started before the proposals to create RCUs were received, still had to be followed up. In November 1966, the Honorary Secretary of the Lancashire and Cheshire Group of Labour MP's invited the County Council to meet his group. Representatives were appointed and, in the interests of political balance, it was decided to offer a meeting to the parallel group of Conservative MP's.

Both groups of MP's met the County's representatives on 6th December 1966. The meeting with the Labour Group had to be adjourned before a conclusion was reached but the Conservatives agreed to do everything they could to assist in the early programming of four priority schemes including the M55. As a result of the resumed meeting with the Labour Group, the Committee were informed that the Minister had told the Group that the four schemes were under consideration for inclusion in the prep[aration] pool. Details, she told them, would be announced early in the New Year. It is clear, however, that the Minister and her civil servants would only act in their own good time.

It may be relevant, at this point, to refer briefly to the politics of the pre-1974 Lancashire County Council. Political control swung, for much of this period, between the two major parties. This did not produce, as is often the case, excessive politicisation. In the case of the Highways and Bridges Committee certainly, the Chairman and Vice Chairman, one from each party, just changed roles as the County Council changed colour. As they always worked jointly, visiting sites and attending meetings together, it was sometimes difficult for a resident engineer on some remote site to know who was acting in which capacity. Fortunately they didn't seem to mind if one got it wrong[WMJ1] [13].

A paper by James Drake and E (Ted) Ogden, his head of traffic engineering, published in the October 1970 edition of Traffic Engineering and Control showed what was described as The Preston Northern By Pass as Not yet programmed. This title, or the variation using Northerly, seems, at this time, to have been generally adopted though it was not to be long before M55 became commonly accepted.

At their December 1968 meeting, the Highways and Bridges Committee welcomed James Drake back from his secondment as Director of the North Western RCU. He reported to them verbally on what was going on in the RCU but the minutes state that 80m of major schemes were either under construction or tenders had been let and schemes to the value of a further 70m to 80m should start within the next few years. This rather inadequate minute was the first mention of Trunk Road motorways for some time. One month later, James Drake had resumed his campaigning if, indeed, he had ever stopped. He was authorised to present a paper on The Value of Motorways to the All-Party Roads Study Group at the House of Commons. The paper was actually presented on 29th March 1969 and it provoked the Committees public congratulations to the author.

There was always, amid the campaigning for better communications, a realism in the County's approach. They carefully tried, not always with conspicuous success, to tread the fine line between too much pressure, with its negative effect on the recipient, and too little. In February 1969, Fylde Rural District Council requested their support in representations to the Ministry. The Committee replied that support would be inappropriate as the County Surveyor was carrying out a feasibility study on behalf of the Director of the NWRCU, the first stage of which would be available by the end of March 1969. He was carrying out the study wearing his hat as Chief Engineer of the Lancashire Sub Unit. In April the Committee were informed that the first stage of the study had been sent to the Director and that the final report would be available by the end of September. There is no mention in the minutes of their meetings that the Committee saw the interim report so, once again, the doubtful value of the RCUs from the point of view of the County was demonstrated. Another thing, which was also shown, was that the age-old civil service ploy of delaying a decision by asking for a report didn't work too well when the person asked for the report was James Drake backed by his first-rate organisation.

The Committee did, however, agree to ask the Minister to receive a deputation to discuss the future of the Trunk road network etc. By June, the meeting of Members and Minister had changed into one in which the Clerk of the County Council and the County Surveyor were to meet the Permanent Secretary. The meeting appears to have concentrated on the financial balance between local and national expenditure as a consequence of Trunk Road schemes. The principle of cost sharing at junctions how much was to be paid for from trunk road funds and how much from funds for other roads was agreed, for example, and, as a result of the meeting, the County Council was alleged to have saved 1,378,392. Future road needs do not appear to have played much of a part in the discussions.

In April 1969, the DTp published a Green Paper[14] entitled Roads for the Future a New Inter-Urban Plan. The paper initiated a category of roads called Strategy Routes and among them was a road comprising a westerly by pass of Preston and thence following the existing Trunk Road [A583] to Blackpool. This was not what the Committee wanted but they expressed the hope that, as a result of the feasibility study, an urgent start on the Preston Northerly By Pass could be authorised.

Further impetus was given to the matter by a report to the Committee in January 1970. There had been adverse press comment on the safety of A583, the Preston-Blackpool Trunk Road. Matters were not helped by a Ministry official who, under pressure, had, either knowingly or otherwise, inaccurately told the press that the road was not a Trunk Road but was a County Council responsibility. The fires of the Committees wrath were further stoked by a prospective parliamentary candidate, who obviously couldn't see a band wagon without boarding it, who castigated the County Council for going to sleep on the issue. In the report it was stated that there had been 376 fatal accidents on main roads in the Preston/Blackpool area since 1959, though, to be correct, the accompanying map showed that the net had been cast rather widely to arrive at this figure. The history of the County Councils pressure for the M55 was detailed in the report culminating with the information that the feasibility study recently carried out showed an exceptionally high economic return for the road.

A meeting with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary at the DTp was held on 12th March 1970 to discuss the programming of the M55. Though no other details of the meeting were reported, the Committee were told in May that the Minister had included the road in the Trunk Road Preparation Pool.

In July 1970, the Minister of Transport published the White Paper[15] follow-up to the Green Paper referred to previously. The good news was that the Preston Northerly By Pass had been substituted for the hybrid route defined as a strategy route in the Green Paper but the bad news was that there was now no mention of the Southern and Western by passes of Preston. This despite the fact that the County Surveyors, or rather the Sub Units Chief Engineers, feasibility study apparently showed that the Preston motorway box would be required before the expiry of the White Paper period of 15-20 years. The Committees concern was transmitted to the Minister who replied that the Southern and Western by passes would be considered in the context of developments arising from the Central Lancashire New Town. The Committee found this response unsatisfactory but agreed to let the matter rest for the time being.

By November 1970 target dates for the Preston Northerly By Pass had been agreed with the Director of the NWRCU. Draft Section 11 and Section 13 orders were to be advertised by 19th April 1971; a draft Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) was to be advertised by 7th August 1972; tenders were to be invited by 26th March 1973 with a contract start by 23rd July 1973. Slack had been built into the first two dates so that, if public inquiries were required, the dates could still be met; if not, then the scheme could be speeded up. When the County Council approved the Ministry's draft Section 11 and 13 orders in February 1971, things were ahead of schedule. The Committee asked to be consulted on the landscaping proposals for what was, now, commonly referred to as the M55.

In January 1971, the Department of the Environment (DoE), which had become the government department responsible for transport[16], not for the last time, agreed that the Preston Northerly By Pass could possibly start in January 1973. A staffing establishment in the Sub Unit, specifically for the M55, was agreed. Changes of the dramatis personae at the upper levels were also occurring. James Drake, after 27 years service with the County Council, retired as Lancashire's County Surveyor and Bridgemaster and Chief Engineer of the Lancashire Sub Unit of the RCU in July 1972 and was succeeded by J R (Jim) Ingram who occupied the post until the reorganisation of local government in April 1974. Coincidentally, the man who had succeeded James Drake as Director of the NWRCU, T D (Tom) Wilson, left the post for work in the Departments headquarters and was followed as Director by his deputy, D F (Donald) Dean.

Side road issues became almost the only reference in the Committee minutes directly relating to the M55 as variations were proposed by the Secretary of State, approved or, at least, not objected to by the Committee. Even after it was reported to the Committee that the M55 Preston Northern By Pass (Side Roads) Order had been put into operation on 12th September 1972, a Side Roads (Variation) Order had to be made on 13th April 1973 and that wasn't the end of it.

Construction

The main works were to be carried out under two contracts, both won by the Sir Alfred McAlpine and Son Ltd/Leonard Fairclough Ltd Consortium. Contract M55/2, valued at 8.45m covered work from the Peel roundabout junction with the A583 at Blackpool to the crossing of the Lancaster Canal. The remainder of the work to Broughton valued at 5.19m was carried out under contract M55/3. The bridge over the electrified West Coast Main Line was built in advance. Both main contracts were started on 1st May 1973. Further details of these and other works may be found in the various scheme documents.

In 1974, the County Council was invited by the DoE to be responsible for the design and construction of certain works at the proposed motorway maintenance compound to be sited at the junction of the M55 with the A585. The works comprised, in fact, virtually the complete compound including garages, offices, salt barn and salt hoppers.

In May 1974, though there had been no reports on the progress of the M55 apart from a vague mention of possible completion in mid 1975, the Committee resolved to inspect the works at a date to be arranged.

The contract did not have many difficulties which could be described as unique by the standards of the time. However, there were a few features worthy of mention.

Near the western end of the motorway a maximum of thirty feet of peat underlay the road. At this location, the motorway is on embankment and the peat had to be dealt with to avoid excessive settlement of the finished road. The method used was to dig two trenches to the full depth of the peat, one under each embankment toe. The excavation was carried out in short lengths and backfilled as quickly as possible with imported material. The dragline excavators stood on the backfill to carry out the excavation, swinging through 180 degrees to load dump trucks. When the two trenches had safeguarded the sides of the area, the peat between the trenches was removed and replaced with the same type of imported material.

At its western end the motorway followed the route of an abandoned railway. An existing railway embankment was removed and the material was deposited into a railway cutting outside the motorway works and the land restored for farming, completing the cycle begun by the railway work about 85 years previously.

Towards the eastern end of the motorway, it passes over A6 to which it is connected by slip roads to a surface roundabout. A6 was, at the time, a trunk road and was used as a route for high loads. In order to ensure that above-normal height loads could continue to use the road, a gated access road was constructed through the centre of the roundabout under the motorway at a lower level than the roundabout carriageway in order to provide the required headroom. This was a much less expensive solution than raising the motorway and its bridges over a considerable distance.

 

 

It is worth mentioning, at this point, the design problems associated with traffic at the eastern end of the M55. Blackpool-bound traffic from M6, both north and south, had to merge in close proximity to the M55/A6 junction. Had this been dealt with in the orthodox way with merging followed almost immediately by divergence on the main carriageway, the accident potential would have been totally unacceptable. Instead, the A6 bound traffic was taken out of the main flows from M6 North and South before the two flows originating on M6 were merged. The only unorthodox movement being the crossing of the flow from M6 north to M55 by the flow from M6 south to A6 but these two flows are, probably, the least significant in traffic terms. Though this solution is not unique[17], it certainly provided a neat solution to the problem of junctions in close proximity and is shown on the map reproduced above.

 

As always, major services crossed the line of the motorway and had to be catered for. More unusually, additional ducting had to be installed and pipework laid for two ICI ethylene mains and one Shell petroleum main. The original mains had been laid in ducts but both Shell and ICI later requested the additional ducts and pipework so that they could, more readily, maintain them. Mechanical excavation was not allowed and it had to be done laboriously by hand. The consequences of a broken ethylene main were pointed out graphically by ICI who stated that it would either explode or release a cloud of freezing toxic gas. Enough to make the blood run cold!

 

The impending opening of M55, programmed at that time for April 1975, led the Committee to consider, at their meting in July 1974, the effect of traffic on the existing road system at the Blackpool end of the motorway. The long-term effects would be taken care of, they hoped, by the proposed connections at the Blackpool end of M55 and by the Blackpool Lateral Road of which more anon. However, the programming and, indeed, the existence of these proposals was in government hands to a considerable extent. The Committee therefore confined themselves to approving certain relatively minor works dealing with, among other things, traffic signing

 

In the months before the opening, two events were held on the motorway. On the 15th June, the main contractors, the Sir Alfred McAlpine and Son Ltd-Leonard Fairclough Ltd Consortium, made the motorway available for a sponsored walk for charity organised by the Preston Lions and Cheshire Homes in which hundreds of people took part. Rather more unusually, the Ministry of Defence and British Aerospace were allowed to use the motorway, still lacking its final surface, near Weeton as a temporary base for a Jaguar GR1 aircraft. Taking off from nearby Warton airfield on 26th April 1975, the Jaguar landed on the motorway, loaded four cluster bombs and took off in a demonstration of the aircrafts ability to operate away from its normal environment.

As has been pointed out previously in this account, until April 1974 the Blackpool County Borough Council was the highway authority for roads within the Borough. The conceptual responsibility for any new road within Blackpool consequent upon and leading from and to the M55 was strictly no concern of the County Council. The position was, however, less clear-cut in the case of any road from the M55, through Blackpool and into the County's sphere of responsibility in the Fylde or Wyre[18] areas. In this case there was clearly a joint County/County Borough involvement. A link road serving south Blackpool and Lytham St Annes had been included in the 1949 Road Plan for Lancashire referred to previously and a road, paralleling the coast and running roughly north and south had been included in the 1956 Lancashire County Development Plan.

The fact that James Drake had been, immediately before his appointment as County Surveyor and Bridgemaster of Lancashire, Borough Surveyor of Blackpool clearly tended to improve liaison between the two authorities[19]. One gets the strong feeling that James Drake had an unofficial influence on many of the ideas mooted by Blackpool after his departure from the Borough.

The County Councils strong support for inter-authority liaison made the County Surveyors position in working with Blackpool more secure. Roads and other modes of transportation and their users do not take much notice of local government boundaries and, in my experience, the County Council normally disdained the parochial approach so common in some quarters including government, as will be apparent shortly.

In 1971, Blackpool Corporation and the County jointly submitted to the Department of the Environment a proposal for a road known as the Squires Gate Link Road to be included in the approved Principal Roads Preparation List. The proposal was for an all-purpose road from the terminal roundabout of the M55 to serve Blackpool South Shore, the airport, and to facilitate communications from the motorway to Lytham St Annes.

Also in 1971, the Corporation, with government approval, initiated a Transportation Study of their area employing the consulting engineers, Jamieson and MacKay. The report was ready in the summer of 1973 and included recommendations for new road links consequent upon the opening of the motorway. Among the proposals was the extension of the M55 along the disused railway line into the central area of Blackpool where it connects with the Central Area Relief Road. One glaring feature of the report was the absence of any reference to the Squires Gate Link Road. This was in spite of the joint submission by the Borough and County Councils of a proposal for the road to central government in 1971. Neither Blackpool nor their consulting engineers were responsible for this; the terms of the study approved by the Department of the Environment actually precluded any data being collected or analysed outside the boundaries of the County Borough. The government stated that there was a fixed sum available for works within the borough and, even though Blackpool would, without question, directly benefit from the Link, it could not be included![20]

The County Council were, of course, even more deeply interested than usual in the results of the study as they knew that, when the new County Council took over highway responsibilities in Blackpool in 1974, they would inherit the plan and have to fund any proposals which were implemented. While deploring the omission, therefore, the Committee confined themselves to approving the report in principle.

The mention in the preceding paragraph of new Lancashire tempts me to unstable one of my many hobby horses. However, apart from stating that to call a totally new authority by the same name as an old one must inevitably give rise to confusion and to the misapprehension that the new was merely a continuation, in modified form, of the old[21], I will restrain myself. Suffice to say that the new authority, some twelve months before it was due to come into power, appointed committees to shadow those of the pre 1974 Lancashire County Council. The embryo Highways and Transportation Committee was invited to send three members to the annual meeting with the Director of the NWRCU in October 1973. The sense of continuity was heightened by the fact that it is not possible to trace any evidence of a report by the delegates, verbally or in writing, to the parent committee plus a change

One valuable innovation was introduced with the reorganisation of local government in 1974. Highway authorities were required to publish, each year, a document entitled Transport Policies and Programme or TPP as it became universally known. This discipline required them to consider their future requirements in highways and public transport and to review, update and roll forward these requirements each year. In the first TPP dated 1975-6 and published in 1974, under the heading Programme beyond 1975-76 were included Link from M55 to Squires Gate, Blackpool and Extension of M55 from Squires Gate Link to Blackpool Central Area. This established the system existing at the time of writing. The latter road was asterisked as requiring further investigation pending transportation analysis. In effect, the annual TPP became a highway authority's bid document but it differed from earlier forms of bid in that the programme had to be considered for each financial year and the financial consequence of each scheme on future years budgets had to be taken into account. Also, because of the intra and inter authority consultation process, other departments of an authority could not pretend ignorance of the financial effect of the programme on the authority's own resources.

In September 1974, the Committee considered a very full report on the Blackpool Lateral Road and the Squires Gate Link. Both of these proposals were included in the 1949 Road Plan for Lancashire and part of the Lateral Road and the Squires Gate Link Road as then envisaged were later included in the statutory Development Plans of the County Council and of the Blackpool County Borough Council. The Committee resolved that, though both proposals would be considered for inclusion in the 1976-77 TPP submission, higher priority should be given to the Lateral Road than to the Squires Gate Link Road. The Squires Gate Link Road has been mentioned previously and will be covered later in this account. The Lateral Road deserves mention although, despite the Committees decision as to relative priorities, at the time of writing, little progress is evident.

The Blackpool Lateral Road / Fylde Coast Easterly By Pass

The purpose of the Blackpool Lateral Road, known since mid 1983, more descriptively and more acceptably to political sensitivities, as the Fylde Coast Easterly By Pass (FCEB) was two-fold. Firstly to disperse traffic coming towards the coast on the motorway to Fleetwood in the north and to Lytham in the south. Secondly to act as a regional distributor for traffic within the Fylde Coast towns. The situation was complicated by the Department of the Environments proposals for a review of the trunk road pattern, intended to apply from April 1976, which included the trunking of A585 from M55 near Kirkham to Fleetwood. In fact, A585 from M55 to Fleetwood was actually trunked from July 1980 the mills of ministry grind exceeding slow. This proposal was founded on Fleetwoods growth and potential as a major port[22]. The County Council, however, rather than accepting the existing inadequate A585 as the trunk route favoured the line of the Lateral Road from the Blackpool end of M55 to join the northern section of the then proposed Thornton Cleveleys Relief Road en route to Fleetwood. If access to Fleetwood alone was the consideration, the route along A585, which would, as all agreed, require substantial improvement, was shorter and, possibly, better. However, road users tend not to know or care what particular status a road has and there is equally no doubt that the Lateral Road would have had a much wider beneficial effect on the totality of transportation in the area. Successive government ministers blew hot and cold on the idea of combining the regional and national functions as will be seen later in this narrative. Today Fleetwood's potential as a developing port appears to be reduced compared with the situation in the mid seventies and compared with the growth of Heysham, just a few miles across the River Wyre as the crow flies, rather further by roads capable of carrying container traffic[23].

The Committee consulted the councils of Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre on both the Lateral Road and the Squires Gate Link and, at their meeting in February 1975, received their views together with a petition regarding the route of the Lateral Road. It was clear that most, if not quite all, the public concern came from residents in the vicinity of Carleton and Poulton le Fylde and in a small area south of the M55.

When, in 1975, the County Council objected to the choice of A585 as the trunk route to Fleetwood, they obviously feared that the Lateral Road, a much more useful route, would be forgotten or, at least, downgraded in importance. It is clear that, even though the road has yet to appear in any firm programme, the County Councils continued pressure has played a major part in keeping this rational option in being.

In 1986 the Committee considered giving a contribution to the Department in order to try to get the County Councils preferred line into a firm trunk road programme, the County Surveyor recommended that 3m would be fair. The justification for a contribution was that, if the County Councils preferred line was not constructed as a trunk road, it would have to be built as a county road at a greater cost to the ratepayers. The Department had asked for 4.05m and the Committee were so keen to get things settled that they appointed a sub-committee with power to act. At the subsequent meeting of the Committee, they resolved to agree to 4.05m subject to it being a fixed amount regardless of subsequent changes in the estimate and subject to the granting to the County Council of capital allocation to fund it. They also asked the Department to employ the County Council as agents for the roads design and construction. The Ministers reply was, not to put too fine a point on it, negative. While stating that the County Councils willingness to contribute was one of the factors he would have in mind when considering the inclusion of the road in any programme, he did not agree to the sum being fixed. On the question of agency, he stated that the appointment of the County Council would be a departure from the Departments well-established policy of awarding major projects to consultants[24].

In 1987, the Director (Transport), the Departments regional representative, turned the County's proposal around. Instead of building the road as a trunk road with a contribution from the Department, he suggested, why not build it as a county road with a contribution from the government? This was not a promise, you understand. The Committee appeared to go along with this idea as they made no reference to the Fylde Coast Easterly By Pass when they commented on the governments White Paper Policy for Roads in England, 1983. However, in April 1984 they published an outline scheme for the road for the purposes of consultation with the three local authorities and with the County Councils Planning and Industrial Development Committee. The accompanying report contained the following; The County Council is of the view that it [FCEB] should be pursued as a trunk road scheme. In other words, they were going along with the Directors suggestion but stuck to their original opinion. When they received the results of the consultation, it probably surprised no one to learn that Blackpool supported the scheme and so did Fylde though they couldn't appear too enthusiastic so they raised queries about a substantially different issue, namely traffic in Kirkham and Wesham. It was equally unsurprising that Wyre had a large number of reservations. For a while, however, the three borough councils and Lancashire formed a more united front.

A Public Inquiry was held in 1986 into the Local Plan for Fleetwood, Thornton Cleveleys and Poulton-le-Fylde in September 1986, in which the County Councils preferred line for the FCEB was included, though there was no legal reason for its inclusion. The Inspectors report was rather hostile to the road and the Minister, unwisely, agreed to meet a deputation of residents from Staining, Normoss and Carleton, the primary and rather vocal objectors to the line[25]. The local authorities, sensing bad times for the FCEB, unanimously objected at the thought that he might get a very one-sided picture. As part of the ministerial re-education programme which was clearly required, the County Surveyor persuaded British Hydrocarbons to lend him a Sikorsky S76 helicopter and crew for two days, 9th and 10th October 1986, so that Mr Bottomley could get a birds-eye view of the line of the FCEB. The quid pro quo was that the Minister was taken out to one of the Irish Sea gas rigs for an unusual photo opportunity.

The essentially reasonable tone of the County/Department discussions before and during the reign as Minister of Transport of Peter Bottomley was, unfortunately, not sustained. The Department had, in 1986, inferred that the consultants appointed to study the options for the Norcross-M55 link road would also take into consideration the local traffic benefits inherent in the County Councils preferred line. It became apparent, as Minister followed Minister, that this enlightened view was not prevailing. While the consultants undoubtedly considered the line of the FCEB as a trunk road option, it appeared to the County Council that the local benefits of the route were being ignored in a display of parochial trunk road vision. For a while things appeared to be going to plan. In the report of the Regional Annual Consultative Committee meeting in January 1989, it was stated that the M55-Norcross Link would have a latest works cost of 19.2m, an expected work start in 1995 and the next major step was listed as being public consultation. Incidentally, the Secretary of State for the Environment, in his approval of the Lancashire Structure Plan in January 1990, listed the road as having a possible start date of April 1991 onwards. Clearly this estimate is still accurate! The Committee strongly reiterated their preference for the line of the FCEB and stressed that their suggested contribution of 4.05m was predicated on the adoption of their preferred line.

As the consultants report on the public consultation exercise, which was held on 16th-18th January 1990, and the Departments decision became imminent, the Committee made plans and tried to convince the dissenters of the merits of their case. The County Council, with Blackpool and Fylde Borough Councils, strongly supported the Red Route, the FCEB, in the consultation document, once more, Wyre Borough Council did not. Wyre had an individual presentation from the DTp and the consultants but, initially, refused to have one from the County Surveyor. They later relented and the CS spoke to them but, I suspect, nothing he could have said would have produced a change of heart on the issue of route; they still opposed the other authorities. The Committee was disappointed, perhaps a rather euphemistic response. Though the Department agreed to include, in the Red Route option, free-flow links at the M55/A583 junction, to allow Fleetwood-bound traffic to avoid the roundabout, thus overcoming one of Wyres objections, it didn't modify Wyre's stand.

It was finally realised by the DTp that, regardless of the route chosen between the M55 and Norcross, something would have to be done between Norcross and Fleetwood. In May 1991 they invited the CS to prepare a Scheme Identification Study for this length. At the Committee meeting at which this invitation was reported, The CS reminded the Committee that the decision of the Secretary of State on the line for Norcross-M55 was overdue. He told them that, from discussions which he had had with Department officials, it appeared to him that they were minded to drop the road as a trunk road scheme but were likely to ask the County Council to take it forward as a County scheme[27]. The Committee arranged for a sub committee to react if the decision was received between meetings but, as 1991 approached its end, the decision was still anxiously awaited.

When it came, the decision seemed exactly what Lancashire wanted. The Minister announced that the preferred route for the Norcross-M55 link was, substantially, the Red Route, i.e. The Fylde Coast Easterly By Pass. The various committees, not unnaturally, welcomed the proposal. They asked for work to proceed as quickly as possible and for early discussions on cost sharing and on who was to do the design and supervise the construction. The preferred route didn't follow the Red Route precisely. The major variation involved putting the road into cutting adjacent to the critical areas of Staining, Normoss and Carleton as, indeed, the County Council had proposed. Encouraged, the Committee withdrew their protection for the route of the FCEB which, as it appeared now in the trunk road programme, would be protected by the Department. They also agreed to increase their potential financial contribution to 50% of the difference in cost between constructing the FCEB and improving, to the same standard, the A585. In May 1992, this contribution was estimated to be 10m; there was no mention of fixed price as there had been previously.

That they were less successful with their desire for the CSs staff to be involved in design and construction seemed a relatively minor issue. In response to their request for a meeting the Minister responded that there was no strong case to change the present arrangements. As a sop, the CS was asked by the DTp to examine the implications of the scheme on the local road network and the County Council appeared reluctantly to accept that this was as much as they would get. They did feel, however, that a meeting with the Minister was still warranted because of the continuing opposition of Wyre Borough Council. The meeting was held with the Minister in January 1993 and, in response to the County Council, he told them that the DTp were progressing the FCEB.

It must have been a real shock to Lancashire when, as part of the 1994 Trunk Road Review, it was announced that the A585 Norcross-M55 link together with other roads had been withdrawn as a trunk road and the route protection had been removed. It came under the category designated as schemes which are no longer considered to be environmentally acceptable or because they are not likely to be progressed in the foreseeable future. The CS discovered that the views of two local MP's had been influential in the opposition to the road. One of them had, somewhat bizarrely, suggested that the FCEB function could be fulfilled by a light rail system. I personally believe that such systems are often at least a partial answer to transportation problems but I fail to see the relevance of such a system in this case.

Left, as they were, with a trunk road, which needed improvement, the Department were forced now to consider tinkering with the existing route of A585. The County Council were left with the problem of the distribution of Fylde coast traffic and have consistently referred to the FCEB, the protection for which they restored, in TPP documents subsequently.

The foregoing account, which, it is hoped, will give a flavour of the types of issue involved in the convoluted history of the road, will have to suffice. There, at the beginning of a new millennium, the matter essentially rests.

The Squires Gate Link Road and the Town Centre Link

At their first meeting as a committee of the highway authority in April 1974, the Highways and Transportation Committee considered a forecast of capital payments for schemes inherited from the former highway authorities the former Lancashire County Council and the four former county boroughs (Blackburn, Blackpool, Burnley and Preston). The list included a total of 4.246 million for the Blackpool Motorway Link, Phase 1 of which 25000 was to be spent in each of the three financial years from 1974 to 1977. This was clearly a stab at allowing for preliminary expenditure on a scheme which, at that stage, had not been properly estimated. A further 1m was included for the extension of Squires Gate Lane with a similar predicted expenditure profile.

One valuable innovation was introduced with the reorganisation of local government in 1974. Highway authorities were required to publish, each year, a document entitled Transport Policies and Programme or TPP as it became universally known. This discipline required them to consider their future requirements in highways and public transport and to review, update and roll forward these requirements each year. In the first TPP dated 1975-6 and published in 1974, under the heading Programme beyond 1975-76 were included Link from M55 to Squires Gate, Blackpool and Extension of M55 from Squires Gate Link to Blackpool Central Area. This established the system existing at the time of writing. The latter road was asterisked as requiring further investigation pending transportation analysis. In effect, the annual TPP became a highway authority's bid document but it differed from earlier forms of bid in that the programme had to be considered for each financial year and the financial consequence of each scheme on future years budgets had to be taken into account. Also, because of the intra and inter authority consultation process, other departments of an authority could not pretend ignorance of the financial effect of the programme on the authority's own resources.

In contrast with the Lateral Road, the Squires Gate Link had a high degree of public acceptance. In July 1975 the County Councils draft 1976-77 TPP submission included the Squires Gate Link as priority 6 in the preferred programme. The Town Centre Link from M55 was also mentioned but not yet put forward for firm programming. Bizarrely the list appended to the TPP referred to the M55 as M65 in both instances. In spring 1976, site investigation for the Squires Gate Link was approved for a main scheme start in 1978-79. The draft TPP submission for 1977-78 reflected this proposed starting date. Of an estimated total expenditure of 4.8m, 0.35m was to be spent in 1977-78, 3.45m in 1978-79 and 1m in 1979-80 if the County's preferred programme was followed. The TPP as finally submitted gave a Base programme starting date as 1979 and the greater realism of this later date was confirmed by the fact that the County's own capital programme, revised in October 1976, included the Squires Gate Link in the 1979-80 programme.

In July 1977, the pace began to increase. The Committee agreed to buy, in advance of construction, land for the Squires Gate Link. Plans were, by that stage, prepared and the proposed layout had been accepted by the Regional Controller of the Department of Transport under the TPP procedure.

The County Estates Surveyor[28] was authorised to open negotiations with British Rail to establish the likely cost of the railway land between M55 and Waterloo Road in Blackpool which was required for the Central Railway Route which would form the Town Centre Link. Despite the Estates Surveyors efforts, some 15 months later, he had to report that BR had been reluctant to discuss the land purchase hypothetically. The Committee therefore asked the County Council to include in the 1979-80 capital programme for the purchase of land in advance for the scheme and, subject to Blackpool accepting responsibility for the terminal car and coach parks, instructed the Estates Surveyor to enter into formal negotiations.

The work of preparing and taking forward the Squires Gate Link continued and gathered pace. In April 1978, the Committee resolved to prepare section 11 orders, side road orders and a compulsory purchase order. There was a financial hiccup when, in the 1979-80 Transport Supplementary Grant (TSG) settlement, the Squires Gate Link was deferred from the 1979-80 programme but, as only a nominal start in that year had been envisaged, the deferral was not necessarily a matter of great consequence. Indeed, the Secretary of State resolved to grant planning permission for the road and informed the County Council in October 1979 that he would confirm the various orders.

In December 1979, the County Surveyor told the Committee that he intended to construct the Squires Gate Link under two contracts. Contact 1 would cover the length from M55 to Squires Gate Lane at its junction with Edgeway Road and Contract 2 would deal with the improvement of Squires Gate Lane between St Annes Road and the Promenade. Although TSG approval had not yet been received, he wanted to invite tenders immediately for Contract 1 without prejudice so as not to hold up the work. The Committee agreed to his request.

However, national financial realities intervened, as was their wont. A report to the Committee in June 1980 on a government White Paper on expenditure plans for 1980-84 referred to a sombre picture. Accordingly, in the draft TPP submission for 1981/82, the Committee only put forward one capital scheme to start in that year the Squires Gate Link. They were also forced to reappraise the staff requirements for design of future schemes, among them the Central Railway Route. This road was assessed as requiring 2 man years of work to produce a preliminary design and was given a rough estimated cost of 2.2m for land and works at November 1979 prices.

The same financial problems forced the County Surveyor to propose the construction of the Squires Gate Link in two phases. Phase 1, consisting of on/off slip roads to the M55/A583 roundabout, a single carriageway to the Chapel Road roundabout[29] together with the link to Clifton Road, was estimated as costing 1.92m. The Committee also agreed to include provisional items to allow for 140 metres of single carriageway from the terminal roundabout towards Cropper Road to give access to a proposed industrial estate. This change of plan, of course, rendered the original tenders void so it was decided to restrict invitations to tender to the firms which had already put in considerable effort when tenders were invited in 1979. Work on Phase 1 began on 11th January 1982, the industrial estate access was constructed and the road was opened to traffic before Christmas in the same year.

In May 1982, the Committee considered a full report on the Central Railway Route. This proposal detailed a route now running from the Chapel Road roundabout, at the end of Phase 1 of the Squires Gate Link, along the old railway line which ran predominately on embankment to the site of the former Central Station with its extensive carriage sidings. Car and coach parks would occupy the site of the station and the sidings and the Borough Council were responsible for those. Although the parks would be the primary destination, there would be a connection to the normal road system at Waterloo Road for use in emergencies and during the winter and at certain off-peak times when traffic was lighter. To minimise cost and to keep the road within the railway boundaries using the existing structures, a 7.3 metre carriageway was proposed. Subject to Blackpool proceeding with the car and coach parks, the scheme was approved at an estimated cost of 3.02m and was included in the 1983/4 programme.

Approval for a soil survey to start was given in March 1983 and the main works were to go out to tender in mid July 1984. The works were to include:-

      The dualling of the length of the already constructed Phase 1 of the Squires Gate Link from the A583 to Chapel Road roundabout.

      A two-lane single carriageway from Chapel Road roundabout to a roundabout near Waterloo Road in Blackpool from which the spine road to be provided by Blackpool through the car and coach parks would commence.

      The construction of a connecting road between the terminal roundabout and Waterloo Road itself.

A petition was received from residents of Highbank Avenue, Marton, whose houses backed on to the route of the road. They were worried about the noise, loss of privacy, devaluation of their property and danger to children which, they felt, would result from the use of the road. They didn't accept that the 28 high concrete fence, which was to be provided on either side of the road at the top of the embankment, would do much to help. A public meeting attended by one hundred or so people was held. Even though a highway authority had no liability to fence any road other than a motorway, their representatives suggested a chain link fence at the foot of the embankment to deter trespass. To screen the properties, 15000 plants including 8000 trees were included in the scheme and, although predicted noise levels were well below the qualifying levels, it was suggested that a 24 high close-boarded timber fence on top of the 28 concrete fence might be provided. A sub committee was appointed to inspect the whole route with this suggestion in mind. Having been, one might think, extremely accommodating, the Committee felt there was nothing they could do about property values; it would be up to affected house owners to claim.

The residents thus, perhaps, placated, the Central Railway Route opened to traffic on 3rd January 1986. It had been constructed under two contracts; an advance contract to deal with four bridges was valued at 0.148m and commenced in July 1984; the main contract valued at 3.5m commenced in October 1984. Both contracts were let to Fairclough Civil Engineering Ltd.

Apart from the FCEB, this left Phase 2 of the Squires Gate Link Road and the dualling of Squires Gate Lane as the remaining projects at the western end of the M55. A full report to the September 1988 meeting of the Committee set out the current position on these two schemes as follows:-

Dualling of Squires Gate Lane Programme Year 1990/91

Estimated Works Cost 1.079m

Earliest Start Date April 1990

Squires Gate Link Phase 2 Programme Year 1991/92

Estimated Works Cost 5.268m

Earliest Start (Public Inquiry) Oct 1991

Earliest Start (no Inquiry) April 1991

In November, a bit of borough council type politicking crept into Committee Room A where Highways and Transportation Committee meetings were normally held. Each party tried to demonstrate that it and it alone was trying hard to bring forward the dualling scheme. The scheme was already included in the capital programme for 1990/91 at a cost of 1.3m and an amendment was moved by Conservatives to bring it forward to 1989/90. The ruling Labour group, with responsibility for balancing the whole budget, couldn't accept this and moved another amendment agreeing to press the scheme locally and nationally as quickly as possible. The scheme had not, so far, attracted Transport Supplementary Grant. After further discussions in high places, it was eventually decided to include the scheme in the programme for a start late in the financial year 1989/90.

In June 1989, the DTp allocated additional resources and the CS recommended that some of these should be used to increase the sum spent on the dualling from a nominal 100,000 in 1989 to 428,000. The contract was let to Cumbrian Industrials Ltd to start on 13th November 1989 with a target completion in September 1990. The road was opened, to general satisfaction, in August 1990 though there was some debate about verge treatment.

Also in June 1989, the Committee approved a scheme for Phase 2 of the Squires Gate Link for the purposes of consultation with the local authorities. In March 1991, the County Surveyor had to report a possible objection to the Compulsory Purchase Order for the scheme. The original proposal had included using a small lake as a balancing pond for road water run off. Unfortunately the lake was used by an angling club with about 40 members who had stocked the pond with fish and who believed that an ecological haven had been created there. The proposals were revised to leave the pond untouched.

Tenders were invited for the short length of the Squires Gate link to serve the industrial estate and, in May 1992, the Committee approved the draft Side Road and Compulsory Purchase Orders for the main Phase 2 scheme. The TSG settlement for 1993/4 included accepted expenditure equal to the forecast payments of 1.25m in the financial year 1993/4. The accepted bid in the following years settlement was for 6.303m.

The various contracts involved in this link to the M55 Phases 1 and 2 of the Squires Gate Link and the dualling of Squires Gate Lane represented an investment of over 14m and were completed when Phase 2 was opened to traffic on 2nd May 1995.

To round off the story of M55 and its feeder roads, it is, perhaps, appropriate to mention a unique feature. In 1994 the County Council decided to encourage the creation of art in public places. Ashworth Road roundabout was chosen as a suitable site for a prime example of this policy situated as it is at the entrance to Blackpool from the M55, passed by millions of people each year. Three artists were commissioned to submit detailed proposals and models and one, David Annand, was judged the winner with his work, Helter-Skelter. Apart from the County Councils major input other financial support was given by Blackpool Pleasure Beach Limited, Cumbrian Industrials Limited, The Foundation for Sport and the Arts and the North West Arts Board. This impressive structure of stainless steel was opened by the Chairman of the County Councils Highways and Transportation Committee on 11th October 1995 and proudly stands on the roundabout which has been specially landscaped and illuminated by the County Surveyors Department[30] and which is pictured on the next page.

Wigan, 2000
Wigan


Helter-Skelter at the Ashworth Road roundabout



[1] These minutes are kept in the Lancashire County Records Office in Preston under reference CC/MBM/xx. I started my researches in CC/MBM/64 which covers the years 1951,52 and 53.

[2] The Environment Director, Graham Harding, kindly facilitated my access to documents held in his Department. They were invaluable for information on what I have described later as feeder roads.

[3] County Surveyor (CS) is a now extinct title of ancient origin for the chief officer of a county councils highways and transportation department. Lancashire was, I believe, the last county to use this title together with the addition of the almost equally ancient Bridgemaster and relinquished it with due reluctance in 1999. The Environment Director has assumed the responsibilities of the CS and also those of the County Planning Officer.

[4] When the term County Council is used, capitalised and unqualified, in this text, either the pre-1974 or the post-1974 Lancashire County Council is intended.

[5] It is illustrative of the co-operation between the Blackpool Borough and Lancashire County Councils that the Corporation, which was the body responsible for naming roads in Blackpool, should honour a County Council officer.

[6] The first County Surveyor and Bridgemaster of the new Lancashire County Council, Harry Yeadon shadowed that role from 1973.

[7] Since 1998, the post of County Surveyor has been subsumed into that of Environment Director. Graham Harding is the first holder of that post.

[8] When the word Committee is used, capitalised and unqualified, in this text, the Highways and Bridges Committee or, post 1974, the Highways and Transportation Committee of the Lancashire County Council is intended

[9] The responsible government department has, over the years, taken different names. Initially the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation it became the Department of Transport (DTp) for most of the time covered by this document and, for simplicity, I have referred to it as such from here on. The head of the Department was initially Minister but later Secretary of State.

[10] The Committee agreed to lend James Drake to the Ministry for 18 months starting on 1st February 1967

[11] As, indeed, they would have to be if the delegates were to have been reimbursed their expenses for attending the meeting.

[12] The Minister at the time referred to the majority of work being done by consultants; the majority eventually became an overwhelming majority. Senior civil servants, compulsorily retired at the age of 60, not unnaturally looked to consultants for continuing employment and were probably not too displeased by government policy.

[13] The advent of the new County Council in 1974 came as a real shock to the system. The former county boroughs, Blackpool and Blackburn brought borough-style politics to the County having the two largest blocks of members. Blackpool was, at that time, extremely and sometimes aggressively Conservative and Blackburn was little better (or worse, depending on ones point of view) on the Labour side. The days of shared Chairmanships/Vice Chairmanships were over perhaps for ever. The majority Conservatives took both posts on all committees and, when they came to power, Labour reciprocated. Even when the Council was hung with neither main party having overall control, the largest single party took both Chairmanships and Vice-Chairmanships. Incidentally Lancashire, even now and regardless of the sex of the incumbent, refers to chairmen rather than chairs.

[14] A government paper for consultation.

[15] White Papers are published after consultations started by Green Papers and are supposed to be fairly firm indicators of legislation or other government action.

[16] A brief aside about the machinations of central government is, I think, warranted. In 1970, a new government decided to incorporate Transport within the larger Department of the Environment. Probably to assuage the politician at its head, he became a Secretary of State. The minister within his department with responsibility for transport was called a Minister though his responsibilities were but a pale shadow of those held by those referred to as Minister in previous administrations; for example, cabinet rank was not an option for him. By itself this terminological inflation might not matter but, when the responsible department again became the Ministry of Transport, the political head had to be a Secretary of State to avoid hurting feelings and Ministers became, perhaps for ever, a lower order of political life.

[17] This method was used in the early 1970s, for example, to deal with the proximity of two junctions on the Manchester Outer Ring Road presently numbered M60. The junctions in question were with the A57 at Eccles and the Eccles Interchange where the western leg of the M62 and the Eccles By Pass, M602, joined the Ring Road.

[18] The use of Fylde and Wyre at this juncture might be considered anachronistic. They are here used to describe the areas since 1974 administered as second tier authorities by the two Borough Councils bearing those names. Potential confusion arises from the fact that the geographical area of the Fylde has included, for a very long time, Blackpool and much of the rest of the area between the rivers Wyre and Ribble. It is in this sense that the Lateral Road came to be called the Fylde Coast Easterly By Pass.

[19] Though it is more than a possibility that, with different people involved, the reverse might have been true.

[20] It is believed that some intelligent people are able to see logic in this type of decision but, apart from some possible party-political advantage, it escapes me. The recent reversion of Blackpool to unitary status, by a decision of Prime Minister Majors government, once again makes it much more likely that transportation in the Borough will be treated parochially the ways of politicians (and, often, civil servants) are exceeding strange.

[21] Which, in practical terms and in the perceptions of those involved, it was.

[22] Roads were considered for trunking if they connected major centres of population or if they led to major ports (defined as ports with a throughput of more than 2 million tons or tonnes)

[23] Throughput in thousand tonnes

 

1970

1975

1980

1985

1990

1994

1998

Fleetwood

253

1025

1944

1879

1381

1198

1106

Heysham

586

593

885

926

1485

2809

3585

Source: DETR Statistics

It will be seen that Fleetwoods growth in the 1970s was not sustained whereas Heysham, after a slow start, grew steadily. As far as can be ascertained, Fleetwood only exceeded 2m tonnes throughput in one year, 1986, when 2.076m tonnes was recorded. As a comparison, Liverpools traffic in 1998 amounted to 30.3 million tonnes.

[24] From an apparently laudable desire to get value for money when considering whether to employ consultants or authorities, consultants were now to be employed for major projects as part of a well-established policy. The dogma of privatisation had clearly taken over.

[25] It should be noted that the residents right to object to the line of the FCEB was in no way affected by the local plan inquiry. There would clearly be another inquiry into the scheme orders in which the Minister or, more probably, one of his successors would be acting as the court of final appeal. In the circumstances, more apparent impartiality would not have come amiss and the County Council felt that, if he was determined to see the delegation, he ought, in the interests of balance, to also receive the scheme's proponents.

[26] The Thornton Cleveleys Relief Road, an improvement / by pass of A585, was constructed initially as a potential trunk road with the County Council acting as agent of the Department and opened to traffic on 12th February 1979. The pre-tender estimate for the road was 4.079m.

[27] Is it unkind to suggest that the Department wished now that they hadn't trunked A585 in the first place? It had clearly caused them a lot of trouble and the original justification (see page 18), shaky at the time, was now even less logical.

[28] For a long time, the County Surveyor, uniquely among county officers, had his own estates section which had efficiently and effectively obtained all the land and property required for county roads. Unfortunately, some people placed more store on uniformity than they did on efficiency and effectiveness and the County Surveyors land section was subsumed into the central organisation.

[29] Later known more generally as the Ashworth Road roundabout.

[30] Blackpool Borough Council now maintains the roundabout and the County Council has no involvement. Incidentally, the Borough Council did not contribute to the sculpture or to the preparation of the site.

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