M621 Leeds Southern Motorway

Gildersome Street to Beeston (J27(M62)) to J1

The Gildersome Street to Leeds Motorway M621 is basically a two lane dual carriageway of approximately 3 miles in length forming the link between the M62 Lancashire - Yorkshire Motorway and the Leeds South East Urban Motorway. For most of its length however, an additional crawler lane is provided on the steep gradient of the Northbound carriageway from Leeds. There are 12 structures on this length of motorway.

The contract was won by Messrs. W. & C. French (Construction) Ltd. at a tender price of £2.9m. Work started on the 27th September 1971.

There were approximately 1.5 miles of slip roads from the M62 Gildersome Interchange to their conjunction as the M621 dual carriageway. Crossing the route of the slip roads is the A650 trunk road, and this is carried on two individual over-bridges. Both bridges are composed of pre-stressed concrete I-beams with in situ decks spanning approximately 60 ft. at slightly different skews, due to the horizontal curvature of the A650. They are supported by reinforced concrete abutments, and the cantilevered wing-walls abut to produce a continuous parapet. The parapets being curved both in plan and elevation, and extending over 300 ft.

At the other extremity of the site two similar bridges were being constructed as part of the Beeston Interchange.

Leeds Southern MotorwayBetween the two Beeston Interchange Bridges is a most interesting structure. An 'Armco' multiple arch spans 26 ft. over the existing road and the Y.E.B. and C.E.G.B. services beneath. This solution was considerable cheaper than diverting the services around the roundabout, but still provides access to them for maintenance. A corrugated metal arch is naturally very flexible, and the structure required careful supervision during backfilling operations. Settlement of the footings and deflections of the crown of the arch, both vertically and horizontally were monitored in order that the final profile should be as near circular as possible.

The decision to light the motorway together with the M62 Gildersome Interchange, was taken approximately half way through the contract. In addition to the erection of lighting columns it was necessary to erect a double sided tensioned safety barrier throughout the length of the Motorway and single sided on the slip roads. The additional work was carried out with the minimum of delay to the Contract due to close co-operation between the main contractor (who also erected the safety barrier), the lighting sub-contractor and the Resident Engineer. Despite this additional work the building strike of 1972 and the steel shortage, the Motorway was opened in November 1973, only two months behind schedule.

Acres of the famous Gildersome rhubarb were cleared when the M621 earthmoving programme began in September 1971.

Destined to connect Leeds with the existing M62, this first section of the M621 motorway runs from the M62 at Gildersome to the Beeston Interchange just south of Leeds United Football ground.

As the motorway got closer to Leeds the more the underground services proliferated, culminating in Beeston Interchange, which when excavated resembled the inside of a tin of spaghetti.

The contract was completed in November 1973.

Leeds South Western Urban Motorway (J1 to J3)
The M621 comes boldly down a long steep hill for over a mile and affords a view of almost all the city. The motorway continues from the Beeston interchange, passing Elland Road (Leeds United) Football Ground and links with the South East interchange. Its length is 1.66 miles (2.68km) and is constructed mainly on embankment. The connection to the Inner Ring Road is provided by the Ingram Road Distributor (0.77 miles, 1.24km) which starts at the Elland Road Interchange. The distributor has dual 24ft. (7.3m) carriageways but as pedestrians are barred no footways are provided.

Of the three motorways this was the only one to have serious objections at the C.P.O. Inquiry stage in 1972, a remarkable achievement considering the complexity of the land requirements. The line of the road had been revealed in development plan submissions in 1963 with no objections. The majority concerned individual properties but one was from the staff of the Mathew Murray Secondary School built in 1961 and adjacent to the distributor. Concern was rightly expressed at the proposal to cross playing fields adjacent to the school in open cut with the resultant disturbance. The Council had proposed to the Ministry that a cut and cover solution at an extra cost of approximately £200,000 would be preferable relying on the knowledge gained on the Inner Relief Road. Following a Public Inquiry, the Inspector recommended that it be covered, and the Ministry gave grant for the work.

The motorway is 90ft. (27.2m) wide comprising dual carriageways 24ft. (7.3m) wide, two hard shoulders (9ft., 2.75m), two verges (5ft. 9in., 1.75m) and a 12ft (3.6m) wide central reserve and is subject to a 50mph limit from the city to Beeston Ring Road. There are 6 road bridges, 2 rail bridges, 2 footbridges and 360ft. (110m) of tunnel. In addition British Rail were responsible for another bridge carrying the main London line over the motorway. Typical of the Leeds area, bad ground conditions were met and preliminary work to locate and fill old mine workings was undertaken. Large quantities of toxic material also had to be removed.

The contractor was A. F. Budge Ltd. and the work took 20 months to complete against the contract period of 27 months. The total cost of the scheme was £10.5 million of which land purchases accounted for £1.86 million.

Leeds South Eastern Urban Motorway (J3 to J7)
The route of length 2 miles (3.23km) was originally built as the M1 extension. It commences in the south at the former city boundary at the interchange of Stourton, officially (at the time) the end of the national M1. It follows the line of the disused Hunslet East - Beeston Junction railway in cutting. It then rises on embankment to cross over Belle Isle and Old Run Roads providing panoramic views of the city centre on the skyline. The motorway then swings to the north and sweeps across Hunslett Moor in cutting until it reaches the South Leeds Interchange which distributes the traffic into the existing network.

It was intended that the final motorway network would be based on three interconnected motorways running tangentially to the city centre linking the Inner Ring Road to the M1 and M62. The final link was to be the North East Motorway running from the South Leeds Interchange to the eastern end of the Inner Relief Road at York Road. This was never built because a wider city by-pass, the A1 - M1 link, later constructed to the east of the city, diverted a considerable part of the likely traffic. However with the advent of Urban Traffic Control (UTC) the considerable volumes of traffic using the South Eastern Urban Motorway were managed and controlled on widened all purpose surface links across the proposed route.

Sensible land acquisition was made possible by a clause in The Leeds Corporation Act which enabled the Council to compulsory acquire land and property beyond the limits of the highway boundary for amenity purposes. This allowed substantial landscaping and earth mounding to be provided to reduce intrusion and noise by using all surplus materials. At that time legislation limited such purpose to the boundary and resulted in disasters such as Westway. Subsequently the Leeds clause was incorporated into the Highways Act.

Hunslet and Beeston were redevelopment areas and the scene of considerable dereliction. Although the use of the former railway line saved many good houses, 400 houses and 600 industrial and commercial premise were demolished - this being the original industrial heartland that made Leeds in the last century.

From nearby, ¼ million tons of colliery waste from a tip, partly surrounded by houses, in Old Run Road were used to form embankments and residents were delighted that at last they had a pleasant view instead of a shale tip at the front door. Adjacent to the tip the motorway, on a 30ft. (9m) high embankment, crosses the line of the Middleton Colliery Railway. The route of this historic railway line, which was still in use, into the former colliery has been preserved by building a corrugated steel 'Armco' tunnel under the motorway, which at 260ft. (79m) long and 19ft. (5.79m) in diameter was the largest structure of its type in Britain. In 1758 this line was the first railway system to be authorised by Act of Parliament. For the first 50 years the carriages were horse drawn, the change to steam being made in 1812 using a rack rail system and a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour.

Leeds Southern Motorway2The idea of using the standard lighting columns creating a 'wall' across South Leeds was unacceptable. The Ministry however refused to consider the relatively new high mast lighting - it not being in the book! However after much discussion a grant based on the cost of normal lighting was given and the City allowed to provide anything more expensive at its own cost. Hence 100ft. (30m) high lighting columns with High Pressure Sodium lights spaced at wide intervals were provided, illuminating the road and landscape areas.

Generally the motorway, which has a design speed of 50mph, is 110ft. (34m) wide comprising dual three lane 36ft. wide carriageways and 1ft. wide marginal strips, separated by a 10ft. wide central reserve with safety fencing and flanked by two 8ft. wide hard shoulders and 4ft wide verges. The motorway structures include eleven road bridges, three of which span the Leeds - Derby main line, four footbridges, thirteen retaining walls, four subways and a railway tunnel. In addition there is a dual 24ft. wide carriageway, half a mile long, known as the Hunslet Distributor leading to Hunslett Road.

The total cost of the scheme was £7.67 million of which £2.87 million was land purchase and service diversions £0.85 million. Tarmac Construction Ltd ((now Carrilion Construction) completed the works three months ahead of schedule."

This was Tarmac's (now Carrilion Construction) first urban motorway. It was soon realised that urban motorways had their own particular problems which were not generally encountered on rural motorways. In particular, the services in Leeds, both existing and new, were a nightmare.

All main bulk earthworks sub-let to E.W. Ambrose, a local company, were carried out by a Cat 991 shovel (not a backacter) and dumptrucks, which in that era was unusual. Both red and black shale was imported from local sources and used in embankments in large quantities, necessitating the use of sulphate resisting concrete for all drainage works. Much of the Type 2 sub-base was won from the ballast (screened first) on local disused railway line embankments. This was early days (I believe) for machine laid extruded concrete kerb. Large quantities were laid out on this contract.

Tarmac Roadstone undertook the surfacing work. The job had its own particular problems due to the close proximity of local buildings/houses etc. 'Public relations' therefore became very high priority, to a degree that had never experienced before, although now of course it is the norm.

The contract commenced in Jan/Feb 1971 as the same time as the 'Energy Crisis' was affecting the whole country with 3 day weeks also part of the political scene.

The road was opened by The Rt. Hon. Geoffrey Ripon Q.C. M.P. Secretary of State of the Department of the Environment on the 15th December 1972.

When the latter two sections of the motorway were completed the municipal bus service undertaking ran a 'fastaway' bus service on them providing a fast, non-stop service from the outlying estates to the city.


Key Dates

Leeds Southern Motorway (M621)
Statistics and options

Section Construction started Opened to traffic
Gildersome Street to Beeston (J27(M62)) to J1 September 1971 November 1973
Leeds South Western Urban Motorway (J1 to J3) 1973? 1975?
Leeds South Eastern Urban Motorway (J3 to J7) January 1971 December 1972