A walk on the M621

Published on 14 July 2021

Do you fancy a walk? In 1972, the City of Leeds was about to open its new South East Urban Motorway and proudly showed off the achievement with a "walkabout" event.

In the early 1970s, the opening of a new motorway in any city would be a celebrated gala event, of course - new roads were still signs of progress and paved the way, in the most literal sense, for a brighter future. But in Leeds it was a particularly exciting moment, for the council at least, because it was a fulfilment of the city's strikingly modernist slogan. Appearing on council promotional material for many years, and even on the postmark stamped on all outgoing mail from the city, were the words LEEDS: MOTORWAY CITY OF THE SEVENTIES.

Here, then, was a brand new motorway for the Motorway City, extending the M1 from the city boundaries right in to the fringes of the centre, and the first part of an eventual vision for a matching South West Urban Motorway and North East Urban Motorway linking with the existing Inner Ring Road.

The South West Urban Motorway was built shortly afterwards, and exists today as the M621 from the M62 at Gildersome in to the city centre. This road was connected to it in the 1990s, at which point it too became part of the M621, while the M1 migrated east to its present line around the edge of the city. The North East Urban Motorway, which would have been formed from the confluence of these two motorways and carried traffic over the river near Crown Point Bridge to reach the Inner Ring Road and continue to the northern suburbs, was never started.

A map of the new motorway and the Walkabout event, with car park and bus stops marked. Click to enlarge
A map of the new motorway and the Walkabout event, with car park and bus stops marked. Click to enlarge

A promotional leaflet from the special event held to mark the official opening sets out what to expect on walkabout day.

Walkabout on the Leeds South-East Urban Motorway
On Sunday 10th December, 1972
Between 10.00am and 4.00pm
A few days prior to the opening of the motorway

You can visit by bus, if you like. Special tour buses will leave the Central Bus Station from Platform E and travel via the new Hunslet Distributor Road to the motorway. You can get on or off the buses at any of five points along the route (numb ered 1-5 on the map above) to take a walk. The bus fare is 5p return.

If you prefer, of course, you can drive. Enter the motorway from Tunstall Road - modern-day M621 J5 - and you'll be directed to park on the new M1. From there you can stroll in either direction or take the tour bus. It's a bracing 1¼ miles to the end of the line at Stourton Interchange, now M621 J7.

The leaflet also presents some interesting information about the project, presented in Q&A format, though the questions are very much those that would be asked by an engineer who wanted to include technical information in their answers, and perhaps not the ones you'd choose to ask yourself.

The full text of the Walkabout leaflet, including details of the £7.6m road works. Click to enlarge
The full text of the Walkabout leaflet, including details of the £7.6m road works. Click to enlarge


Duncan Ĺawton 21 July 2021

I was wondering how the M1 terminated prior to the building of the M621. I have attempted to research old maps with no success. Can anyone help?

The short answer is that is was an unfinished motorway with temporary arrangements - all northbound traffic went around the loop at what is now M621 J3, and southbound traffic joined from the middle of the roundabout on Dewsbury Road on what is now a sliproad. 

Adam Edwards 11 August 2021

Similar event held in October 1986 in the A1(M) tunnel Hatfield. Community stalls in the southbound tunnel and running races in the northbound, as I recall.

Glenn Aylett 4 September 2021

I'm sure Salford City Council did the same with the M602 in 1971, allowing residents to walk on the motorway.

Anon 4 September 2021

Such events used to be pretty common - "used to be" as there are few new roads you could organise such walks on built/opened now.
There was one at the end of the August before the M65 Blackburn Southern Bypass was opened - the event was totally overshadowed by what happened in Paris the night before.

Although initially planned as a motorway in the past, and not completed as such, the Bay Gateway in Morecambe also had a walk organized for the opening

Chris Mills 10 September 2021

There was one through the Hindhead Tunnel in 2011. Unfortunately I couldn't go.

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