Will there ever be a London-Hull motorway?

A map of the eastern UK showing a new motorway route running from the M11 in Essex to the north-east via HullThis morning on a truck drivers’ group on Facebook, I saw a link to a report on the Hull Daily Mail website (not linked to the national Daily Mail) which claimed that the proposal to extend the M11 from Cambridge to the Humber Bridge, thus linking London directly with Hull, will be decided on next year and that the Department for Transport had said last year that it was reviewing plans for that particular motorway project. This idea has been brought up every now and again since the 1980s but has never made it off the drawing board, partly because of pressure from farmers in Lincolnshire (although such objections never stopped any of the other motorways from being built; the government can make compulsory purchase orders) and partly because of the geography and population densities of the areas served.

Although Hull has a fast motorway link to the major northern cities via the M62 and the Midlands via the M18 and M1, there is no doubt that Hull is not well served with motorway links to the south; the most direct route is across the Humber Bridge, a toll bridge, to Scunthorpe, then along a single-carriageway road to Lincoln and then along mostly two-lane dual carriageways to London. The motorway route involves going westwards along the M62, then south-west to Doncaster, and then picking up the M1. This is quite a long detour and goes through a number of the most congested bits of motorway and through several sets of major roadworks; however, the M1 remains the recommended route for traffic from London to Yorkshire and the north-east rather than the more direct A1, which despite recent improvements is quite slow further south (the improvements stop at Huntingdon, where traffic heading for the Channel ports veers off onto the A14). Britain’s major population centres outside London are on the western side of the country and that has been where infrastructure investment has been focussed.

There is a map of a “preferred corridor” for an M11 extension (a low-quality version of which can be found on the HDM article) but it seems to avoid all the major population centres between Cambridge and Hull. Rather than extending from the current northern terminus of the M11 north-west of Cambridge, it would leave the M11 towards Newmarket (along the present A11, it appears) before turning north across east Cambridgeshire and central Lincolnshire to approach the present Humber Bridge approach, the A15, from the south. This would be quite convenient for trucks going to the agricultural centres in east Lincolnshire such as Boston, but misses both the major population centres in that part of the country, such as Peterborough and Lincoln, as well as the ports of Immingham and Grimsby. Beyond Hull, it would continue past York and pick up the current A19 towards Tyne and Wear. It would, effectively, be a new corridor to the north-east coastal areas.

The biggest flaw in this is where in London it goes: the north-eastern side. This is convenient enough if you are going to the Docklands or to the industrial areas around Beckton or the Blackwall Tunnel approach or indeed the south-eastern Channel ports, but not if you are going to the Heathrow area or round the south side and want to avoid paying a toll. If you are going to those places, you will want to head for the M1 or at least the A1. Even people going to Cambridge and Norwich often use the A505 and A1 rather than the M11 and M25, particularly when the M25 is heavily congested (which is often). It also involves building a hundred miles or so of new motorway across sparsely-populated but productive farming country which will result in a very pronounced environmentalist outcry; it will be seen as a lot of environmental damage for very limited economic benefit.

A far better idea, much cheaper and with much less environmental damage, is to upgrade the corridor via Lincoln: remove the Humber Bridge toll, widen the A15 to Lincoln and the A46 Lincoln by-pass to dual carriageway and upgrade the junctions with the M180 and the A1 (the A1/A46 junction at Newark needs upgrading as it is: the slip roads on the A1 are way too short and are a cause of danger as vehicles slow down rapidly to access the slip roads at sharp angles). People would then have the choice of taking the A1 straight to London or the A46 to Leicester, where the M69 takes over to Coventry and the West Midlands. It will also require upgrades to the few remaining roundabouts on the A1 south of Huntingdon, which are a major cause of congestion and have been left in place simply because the government prefers people to use the M1 instead, and to the Newark by-pass on the A46.

I suspect that this scheme will not be seriously considered by government, whichever party is in power. The main source of support for it is Hull itself; the idea that the government intends to give it serious consideration next year is a bit of wishful thinking from the Hull local press. There is already a direct route to the south which could be upgraded at much less financial and environmental cost and with greater benefits, in terms of the area of the country whose links with Hull would be improved, than with a brand new motorway across the east of England, which is the A15 and A46 via Lincoln. This should be improved to stop people having to make a huge detour via Doncaster; a whole new motorway would be a pointless expense and an unwarranted act of environmental vandalism.

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