From the 1920s onwards, planners dreamed of solving London's traffic problems. During the 1920s, the capital's largest road project was the construction of the Great West Road leading out of west London. The Abercrombie Plan of 1945 set out a neat-looking scheme for separating local and long-distance traffic, confining the latter to concentric circular routes that would encircle London, and arterial routes that would radiate from London like spokes in a wheel.
This idea was pushed forward by the London County Council (L.C.C.) in the early 1960s and, more aggressively, by the Greater London Council (G.L.C.) in the late 1960s. In 1969, the G.L.C. published 'The Greater London Development Plan', which set out an ambitious plan for roads and inner-city motorways in London.
The G.L.C. proposed three concentric 'ringways' together with the outward facing 'radials' which would become inner-city motorways. The plan would cost 2,000 million and require the demolition of 30,000 homes. 'Everyone regrets', it acknowledged, 'the disturbance of private property which this road planning involves'.
The plan provoked a great public outcry. In the 1970 G.L.C. elections, 85 candidates stood as 'homes before roads' candidates. The public enquiry into the plan, The Layfield panel, heard over 28,000 objections from over 20,000 objectors before finally reporting in May 1972. Layfield's report criticised the ambitious scale of the G.L.C's plans and the vision of London as a 'motorway box' was curtailed when the plan was finally approved in July 1976.
By this time, parts of the plan had already begun to be realised. The largest road-building project of the 1960s was the Westway, which brought the A40(M) through Hammersmith and North Kensington to central London, joining the Marylebone Road.
The scheme was to site the new road next to the existing Metropolitan Railway line, but to elevate it, thus in theory minimising the noise and disruption to local residents. In fact, the disruption to the largely poor community whose houses stood in the way of the concrete flyover was immense.
Thousands of houses were demolished; the area beneath the Westway became a derelict and dangerous no-man's land; the noise of the traffic and the sight of the flyover's massive structure changed the character of North Kensington forever.
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