I’ve always been fascinated by road building. That might be because of my name (the sunken-lane ‘Holloways’ were the pre-Roman ‘motorways’ in southern England) or because my father worked on putting the M6 across Shap summit or even because I grew up a couple of miles from Britain’s first section of motorway, the Preston Bypass.
Long-distance roads are key to civilization. But this country – or at least the people who have run it – has long been in two minds about the personal freedom and massive economic benefits they can bring.
Before WW2, Germany and Italy were building motorways, and rest of war-ravaged Europe followed during post-war reconstruction. In Britain, as I’m endlessly pointing out, even by 1959 Britain had no motorways at all and was still using steam trains.
We had a burst of motorway building in the 1960s and 1970s, before the UK’s strong anti-roads sentiment started to get back into gear. Of course, there’s no excuse for the idiotic planners who thought ‘ring roads’ should go through cities (Birmingham) rather than around them, as they do in all continental cities.
So I think we were lucky that the Conservative government of 1979-1997 had a pretty robust attitude to driving motorways through. The M25 was finished and the M40 pushed through despite some very clever tricks by the anti-roads mob, including buying a field and selling it, sod by sod, to 10,000 owners around the world. Try and imagine no M40 today.