Running rings around London - the M25

Living History

Running rings around London - the M25

The M25 (or London Orbital Motorway) is a major road encircling almost all of Greater London. It has become one of the most important roads in Britain, and one of the busiest. Construction began in 1973, and the final section was opened by the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1986 (pictured). On opening it was the longest ring road in Europe, at 117 miles.

The idea of a general bypass around London was first proposed early in the 20th century. In 1905, William Rees Jeffreys (1872-1954) told the Royal Commission on London Transport that, "It was a disgrace that no road existed which encircled the English capital". An outer orbital route around the capital had been suggested in 1913, and was re-examined as a motorway route in Sir Charles Bressey's and Sir Edwin Lutyens' The Highway Development Survey, 1937. The concept also formed part of the 1944 Abercrombie Plan for London's roads.

Each section of the M25 was presented to planning authorities in its own right. The need for Ministry of Transport negotiations with local councils meant that more junctions with local traffic were built than had been originally planned.

On opening in 1986, the motorway was immediately popular with the public. Coach tours were even organised for a trip around the new road. However, it quickly became apparent that the M25 was going to suffer from its popularity with chronic congestion - resulting in widening plans under successive governments.

The M25 remains one of Europe's busiest motorways. The stretch between Junctions 14 and 15 nearby consistently records the highest daily traffic counts on the British strategic road network, with the average flow in 2018 of 219,492 counts (but lower than the record peak measured in 2014 of 262,842 counts).

Further reading

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