The life and death of Ringway 3

Published on 25 July 2019

For the last 15 years, we've been researching and sharing the story of London's vast, unrealised urban motorway network. Now our next set of rewritten and updated pages are online, describing the strange story of Ringway 3.

Back in 2017, when we relaunched with the current website design, our pages on the Ringways were so horribly out of date and behind the research that it didn't seem worthwhile to update them to fit the new-look website. Instead, they were all taken offline, to be progressively rewritten and expanded. They're reappearing periodically, as each new set is finished. And finally, Ringway 3 is here.

Ringway 3 is a strange one. Unlike the pages that were already online, describing Ringways 1 and 2, this motorway ring road was half built, and you can drive large parts of it today. You'll recognise them straight away as the north and east sides of the M25. The missing sections, around the south and west, were never even started.

Looks familiar? You might know this part of Ringway 3 as the M25. Click to enlarge
Looks familiar? You might know this part of Ringway 3 as the M25. Click to enlarge

That makes this a story in two parts: the history of half the M25 as we know it, with all the false starts and changes of plan along the way, and plenty to discuss about how we ended up with the road we did. The second part is the story of a whole array of horribly destructive urban motorway proposals. The only reason that none of them stirred up quite the public anger or opprobrium of Ringways 1 and 2 is that no plan was ever settled and very little publicity was ever released. Here, then, is the story of a motorway that is half real and very obvious, and half secretive and mysterious.

What's changed?

The old pages on Ringway 3 were mostly short and often quite vague. Not much was known, and where the road existed, they often skimmed over the history completely. No more: vast amounts of new information have come to light in the last decade, and the new pages are as long and packed with history as all the others. Even where you might think you know the M25 like the back of your hand, we guarantee you'll discover something you didn't know about its muddled history.

In some places we've actually abandoned very minor stories that filled up the old pages because there's so much new stuff that is far more worthwhile and interesting. The west side of Ringway 3 was, previously, a series of question marks because of its thoroughly confusing history and the scores of alternative lines that were proposed at various times. Now all of those have been nailed down, plotted out on maps and explained from start to finish.

Ringway 3 or Ringway 3? It's often hard to tell. Click to enlarge
Ringway 3 or Ringway 3? It's often hard to tell. Click to enlarge

As before, the ring has been split into pages describing the north, east, south and west sides of the circuit. And all of them contain  the lovely features that are now common to all our rewritten Ringways pages:

  • New research, new illustrations, and completely new text.
  • Detailed maps of each road, showing junction layouts where they're known. The maps are overlaid on modern Ordnance Survey mapping and show the GLC Secondary Road Network. Ringway 3 is the first road to take these maps outside the Greater London boundary, where they also highlight other important non-London road proposals.
  • A full cost breakdown and a rough equivalent amount at 2014 prices.
  • A full list of references and picture sources.

What's next?

Back in December, when the Ringway 2 pages were published, I made a silly promise that all the pages after Ringway 2 would be "quicker to write and shorter to read". Ringway 3 has proven that utterly wrong. But I will be setting about the pages for Ringway 4 almost immediately, and they'll be next online - whenever they're finally ready.

Ringway 4 will then be followed by the radial routes in regional groups. Not long to wait!

But that's all in the future. Until then, please find yourself a comfortable seat and settle in for the story of the urban motorway that proved either very easy to build or virtually impossible, depending on which part of London it passed through, and seldom anything in between. The story of Ringway 3 is now online in our Ringways pages.

If you enjoy it, please leave a comment below - and if you find anything wrong, feel free to drop me a line.

Elsewhere on


The story of an incredible plan to reshape London into a city of motorways, with the history from creation to cancellation and details on every unbuilt road.


Patrickov 27 July 2019

I actually still use Web Archive service to read the no-longer-around pages from time to time. Out-of-date as they were, they're still part of history, both in terms of the roads themselves and the research effort from you and your team.

My eternal gratitude for your inspirational and enjoyable information.

Mikey C 30 July 2019

Brilliant articles. I suspect I've walked parts of the Southern section of Ringway 3 recently, as the "non urban route" slices through some of the nice bits of woodland and open space in South London (near Ewell, Banstead, Selsdon, Addington and Keston) that the London Loop walk follows!

I imagine many of the Western route options will do the same...

Derek Williams 21 August 2019

" M14, which was reserved for Ringway 1's West Cross Route." - The West Cross Route was the M41!

It was the M41, but M41 was officially recorded as a temporary number. The number reserved for the West Cross Route, had it been completed, was M14. There's an explanation on the West Cross Route page, as you'd expect.

Chris Wright 1 September 2019

I grew up in the little kink where the M25 turns NW to W at junction 22, so this is all fascinating stuff. We used to get thick spiral-bound blue-covered plans every time the road's alignment changed. Not sure whether my mother kept them, bit I'll check.
One little tidbit is that Cecil Parkinson came to view Salisbury Hall when it was for sale around 1979-80 (his career was still on the rise then!), but he was put off buying because of the possibility that he might be accused of unduly influencing the alignment if he lived right next to the road.

Richard 8 June 2022

I didnt know that about Salisbury Hall. In the late 30s the locomotive designer Sir Nigel Gresley lived there and he sold it to the DeHavilland aircraft company and they designed the Mosquito there.

Not only designed the Mosquito there, but flew out the 2nd-4th prototypes from the surrounding fields, because otherwise it would have taken a month to disassemble them and transport them to Hatfield. Gresley named the Mallard for the ducks on the moat surrounding the Hall. Before him, Jennie Churchill (Winston's mother) owned it (and long before that it was Charles II's love nest for him and Nell Gwynne).

Add new comment

About text formats

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
All comments posted to are moderated before appearing online. Your comment won't be visible immediately.

Picture credits


What's new

Sorry, wrong number

Road numbering is a system with clear rules. What happens when the people responsible for numbering roads don't follow them?

We need to talk about Wisley

National Highways are spending a third of a billion pounds rebuilding one of the most congested junctions on the M25. Is it money well spent?

Oxford's Ground Zero

Oxford's Zero Emission Zone is just a trial, but transport policy in Oxford has become the catalyst for pitched battles and drawn in protestors from across the UK. What's happening to this genteel university town?

Share this page

Have you seen...

Low Emission Zone

A first step towards emissions-based road pricing, a pointless measure to enforce something that's happening anyway, or another leap forward in traffic planning from the people who created the Congestion Charge? It's hard to say.

About this page


Last updated