Telling a story about 1960s urban motorway planning and the machinations of London's local government can involve obscure terminology and an awful lot of confusing acronyms.

The pages in the Ringways section are deliberately written to avoid the jargon and to explain terminology within the text wherever possible, but there are still some terms that can't be explained properly in a few words mid-sentence. This page sets out some of the terms and concepts discussed elsewhere on the Ringways pages and makes them clear.

General roads terminology and jargon is explained on our Dictionary page.

Bored tube

A bored tube is a conventional tunnel created by digging a passage deep underground. It's the method traditionally used to build underwater road and rail tunnels, and to dig many of the deep level parts of the London Underground.


Cut-and-cover is a tunnelling technique used to create tunnels near the surface. A deep trench is dug, the tunnel is built within it, and the structure is then covered over to the original ground level. Some early Underground lines were built this way, and many road tunnels that exist to pass under other roads or to hide the road from nearby buildings are made in this fashion.

Department of the Environment (DOE)

The Department of the Environment was a "superministry" created in October 1970 by merging three existing Government departments: the Ministry of Public Works and Building, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and the Ministry of Transport. It was responsible for transport (and thus roads policy) through the Greater London Development Plan inquiry, and oversaw the creation of the M25 as we know it today. In September 1976, transport was separated again with the formation of the Department of Transport (DTp).

Department of Transport (DTp)

From September 1976, the Department of Transport was the Government department responsible for road and transport planning in England. It was created after the Ringways proposals had been scrapped and was mainly involved in developing roads outside London (including completion of the M25) until the abolition of the GLC in 1986. At that point it assumed responsibility for the former Metropolitan Roads, including the North and South Circular Roads. It carried out a programme of major improvement works on former GLC roads and consulted on further improvements which were cancelled in the face of public opposition.


See "Department of the Environment".


See "Department of Transport".


An elevated road is one that is built as a long bridge or viaduct, carried on supports above ground level. This term is normally used exclusively for roads "up on stilts" and does not refer to a road on an embankment.


See "Greater London Council".


See "Greater London Development Plan".

Greater London Council (GLC)

The Greater London Council was created in 1965 as a replacement for the London County Council, covering the whole of the area we now know as Greater London. The 32 modern London Boroughs were created at the same time. The GLC had London-wide responsibility for planning and land use, employment, emergency services and housing, and under it the individual boroughs operated local roads, local planning policy, leisure services and the other council facilities. It inherited the network of Metropolitan Roads from the LCC, meaning the GLC operated major roads in the former LCC area but those in outer London were trunk roads. In 1970, the GLC gained responsibility for London Transport, which meant it was able to coordinate all transport policy across the capital.

The GLC was created specifically to address the outdated and uncoordinated system of local government in London and at the outset was required to create a Greater London Development Plan to set out its plans for the city. It was abolished in 1986 as part of reforms to local government in England, at which time its responsibilities were mostly transferred to the boroughs.

Greater London Development Plan (GLDP)

The Greater London Development Plan is a planning policy document that the Greater London Council was legally obliged to create in the 1960s. Its purpose was to set out an overall strategy for the development and management of Greater London over the coming decades. The GLDP as originally written included proposals for a network of urban motorways serving the whole of London, including three concentric rings called the Ringways, but it also contained wide-ranging policies on housing, waste management, civil defence and other subjects.

The GLDP went to a public inquiry in 1970 that lasted two years and was the subject of the Layfield Report which was highly critical. It was eventually published, in considerably altered form and without the motorway proposals, in 1976.

Immersed tube

An immersed tube is a method of building an underwater tunnel using prefabricated sections. A channel is dredged along the river or sea bed and pre-cast, waterproofed tunnel segments are floated into place, sunk and connected together in situ. The channel, with its line of tunnel segments, is normally covered over. The temporary walls at the ends of the segments are then broken through from the inside to form a continuous tunnel. In the UK this method has been used to build the A55 Conwy Tunnel and the A19 New Tyne Tunnel, among others.


See "London Amenity and Transport Association".

Layfield, Layfield Inquiry, Layfield Report

Sir Frank Layfield (1921-2000) was a barrister with particular expertise in planning who was asked to chair the public inquiry into the Greater London Development Plan. The GLDP Inquiry was often referred to at the time as the "Layfield Inquiry", and the panel's report at the conclusion of the proceedings was the Layfield Report.

Layfield went on to preside over inquiries into the Sizewell B nuclear power plant and local government finances, and was considered an expert in the field.


See "London County Council".


See "London Motorway Action Group".

London Amenity and Transport Association (LATA)

The London Amenity and Transport Association was a campaign group formed to oppose the GLC's motorway plans in the late 1960s. It was not so much a "grass roots" endeavour, as many such campaigns were, but worked to build an intellectual case to expose the failings of the GLC's transportation policy. It recruited a group of academics, under J. Michael Thomson, to produce a book called "Motorways in London" that became a popular and powerful tool for those who wanted to stop the motorway plans.

London County Council (LCC)

Instituted in 1889, the London County Council was created to provide the first properly accountable and effective system of local government for London. It had responsibility for roads and planning within the area now often referred to as "Inner London", and through the first half of the twentieth century developed and attempted to implement plans for road improvements across the capital. During the late 1950s and early 1960s it drew up the first plans for an urban motorway network.

The LCC was abolished and replaced with the Greater London Council in 1965.

London Motorway Action Group (LMAG)

The London Motorway Action Group was one of the most high profile campaigning organisations to oppose the GLC's motorway plans in the late 1960s and during the Greater London Development Plan inquiry. It was actually an umbrella group, a coalition of smaller local campaigns, most of which had names in the same format, like the Barnes Motorway Action Group.

Metropolitan Road

Metropolitan Roads were the streets and highways operated by the London County Council. In other parts of the country they would have been referred to as "county roads". In short, the LCC managed London's busiest through-routes as Metropolitan Roads, spanning the boroughs. The boroughs were responsible for all other streets and highways within their boundaries.

When the LCC was abolished and replaced with the Greater London Council, the GLC inherited responsibility for Metropolitan Roads, but they were not extended to match the much wider geographical area of the new council. Instead, the GLC only operated main roads in Inner London, while in Outer London major roads were maintained by the Ministry of Transport. This is why the GLC were generally responsible for parts of the Ringway plan nearer Central London and the MOT were responsible for those further out. It also explains why some radial routes were planned to change physical standard and classification for no obvious reason where they crossed the former LCC boundary.

Ministry of Transport (MOT)

Created in 1919, the Ministry of Transport (or, often on, just "the Ministry") was responsible for transport policy and the development of the road network for half a century. It was the organisation that assisted the GLC in planning a motorway network and developing a policy of urban roadbuilding, and in the Ringways plan was responsible for designing, building and operating the motorways in outer London and around the outside of the urban area - principally, Ringway 3, the North and South Orbital Roads (which we often refer to as Ringway 4) and the major radial motorways.

The MOT ceased to exist in October 1970 when it was merged with two other departments to form the Department of the Environment.


See "Ministry of Transport".

Primary Road

Today a "primary road" is the term for a category of particularly important A-roads that have green road signs and usually appear in green on maps. However, in the Greater London Development Plan, the terms "Primary Road" and "Primary Road Network" (or sometimes "PRN") referred to the proposed network of urban motorways that were intended to form the top tier of London's road system in future. What we often refer to as "Ringways" were, in the GLC's preferred language, Primary Roads.

See also Secondary Road.


A radial road carries traffic between the centre of a city, the outer suburbs and the country beyond. Radial roads radiate from cities like the spokes of a bicycle wheel or the hands of a clock. The motorways M1, M11 and M4 are examples of radial roads in the Ringway plan.

Retaining wall

A retaining wall is a structure that holds up an embankment, used where there isn't enough space for a normal earth slope or where a slope would not be stable. When building urban roads, retaining walls can be used to carry the road above or below ground level without taking up valuable extra space with sloping embankments.


A ring road travels in a circle, inside which is the centre of a city. It can run within the urban area or in the countryside around its fringes. You knew that already.

Secondary Road

The term "secondary road" has a range of meanings depending on context, but in the Greater London Development Plan, the terms "Secondary Road" and "Secondary Road Network" specifically referred to the existing main roads across the whole of Greater London which would become the secondary tier of the road network in future. Secondary Roads were expected to receive significant upgrades and would carry traffic to and from the motorways (or "Primary Roads") as well as catering for short journeys.

See also Primary Road.


A sunken road is one that runs below ground level. Many roads have sections that run in cuttings in order to smooth the level of the road through hilly terrain, but a "sunken" road - especially in the context of urban roadbuilding - tends to refer to one that runs below ground level for the purpose of passing under existing streets and being less obtrusive to surrounding buildings. Some sunken roads are in "retained cuttings", which have vertical walls rather than sloped embankments.

Picture credits

  • Graph seen in title picture is extracted from HLG 159/1024.

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