Reaction to the Motorway
The first mention of the motorway project in The Times comes on 3 March, 1923. The article simply reports the that the new road was to go from London to Wolverhampton, with the possibility of a future extension to the "Manchester - Liverpool road", and gives a few details. On June 12th, it was reported that Coventry Chamber of Commerce had decided to support the new road but generally public reporting on the scheme was few and far between. That is, until December 1923, when Letters to the Editor start appearing.
Whilst Lord Montagu is busy trying to drum up support for the scheme, the rug is pulled spectacularly from under him, by the very people the Company is aiming at: the Commercial Motor Users Union.
Any such motorway must within a few years become an abandoned and derelict property, thanks to improvements on the railways...
...money should be spent on new bypasses and on improving existing roads, not thrown away on motorways which will certainly never be used by trade vehicles.
With no support from the industry body, Government support went from being unlikely to non-existent. Indeed, on 6th February 1924, a deputation from the Commercial Motor Users Union gained an audience with the Minister for Transport, and urged him to offer no support for the motorway. It seems rather odd that the body should go to so much length to kill off the project. With minimal support from the Government of the day anyway, it all seems rather overkill, and surely a simple lack of support would be enough? Was there another answer to the query - one that does not seem to have survived in the archive records? Who knows?
Even less surprisingly, the Railways waded in. Whilst more subtle at political manoeuvring than other bodies, they made their distaste plain, again with a letter to The Times that was published on 22 December 1923. Their case basically states that if the Motorway cannot attract road users (by which they mean the Commercial Motor Users Union), then the State will have to fund the motorway - which they claim, not surprisingly, would be a waste of taxpayer's money. After this fact, they start waving around the stick. Why, they say, if more goods traffic goes by railway then prices will fall, but, well, if the amount of goods that move by railway fall, then we shall just have to put the prices up, won't we?
Now, what adds an extra little bit of interest to this letter is the name at the bottom: H A Walker. Whilst well known in railway circles, his name doesn't mean much in a road context; though what is interesting is his job: General Manager of the Southern Railway, one of the "big four" railway companies (along with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS), the Great Western Railway (GWR) and the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER)). Now, the Southern Railway ran no trains north of the Thames, so would not be in competition in any way with the Northern and Western Motorway...
Even the Committee on Unemployment who were expected to support the scheme to provide work for the unemployed did no such thing. In a minute dated 8 January 1924, the Committee agreed:
That no useful purpose would be served by further consideration by His Majesty's Government of the proposals for the construction of the Northern and Western Motorway.
The final nail in the coffin came on 14 February 1924, when the question of the Motorway got as far as the Cabinet. The Minister of Transport was worried about the knock-on effect of more local improvements being delayed due to the motorway, and recommended that the Government should announce that there would be no backing for the scheme from them.