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Leeds 1970s ‘motorway city’ plans led to climate issues and disconnected neighbourhoods, report claims

Words: Richard Beecham, Local Democracy Reporter

Large motorway infrastructure projects built in Leeds during the 1970s have led to climate issues, disconnected neighbourhoods and a lack of investment, a council document has claimed.

It comes as Leeds City Council transport chiefs want to spend millions helping the city centre rid itself of its car-focussed past, with so-called “people-centric” plans for improving the city centre, which include pedestrianising city square and a redesign of Armley Gyratory.

The report claimed these schemes could act as the biggest change to the city centre’s road network since the pedestrianisation of Briggate in the 1990s.

The improvements are all part of what the council calls its “city centre transformation” plans.

The report stated:

“The city is making major progress in the delivery of people centric infrastructure and public spaces across the city centre.

“This strategy focusses on providing high quality spaces in between buildings which meet the needs of people first, to improve connectivity to and from surrounding neighbourhoods, help tackle the climate emergency, improve air quality and to foster enjoyment community, innovation and collaboration – all whilst ensuring there is sufficient resilience within the highway network and promoting sustainable transport modes.”

Leeds adopted its “motorway city of the ’70s” strategy in the 1960s, as city leaders wanted to capitalise on the boom in car ownership and the building of the nearby M1 and M62 motorways.

However, the report claims this scheme, which led to the construction of the M621 in 1972, did not ultimately benefit the city in the long term.

It stated: “The (new) approach to the city centre aims to overcome historic barriers and issues posed by dominant highways infrastructure advocated by the 1970’s ‘Leeds Motorway City’ approach to place and infrastructure in the city. In particular, large swathes of ‘through traffic’ contribute to climate issues, disconnect surrounding neighbourhoods from the city centre and discourage investment.”

At a meeting next week, council officers will seek approval from senior decision-makers to close city square to traffic as part of a wider £78m city centre improvements; and to redesign Armley Gyratory for work expected to cost around £40m.

The gyratory upgrade is expected to include “widening and realigning” the existing roads, and removing the “cut-through” link on the central island. It is also expected to have improved cycle links, landscaping and walkways.

Work on both schemes is expected to be completed in December 2022, in time for Leeds 2023 cultural events.

The report added:

“The effect of the schemes represent the biggest change in the city centre road network since the pedestrianisation of Briggate in the 1990’s and creation of the Loop Road.”

An artist’s impression of how City Square could look.

Armley Gyratory and the City Square highway works are currently fully funded from the West Yorkshire Plus Transport Fund, with an allocation of £78.8million which is also delivering schemes on Infirmary Street Gateway/Park Row, Meadow Lane, and part-funding Regent Street bridge.

Martin Farrington, Leeds City Council’s director of City Development, said:

“We have made significant progress in recent years in transforming the quality of public realm in the city and making our public spaces far more people friendly.

“This momentum is expected to continue with schemes such as City Square and City Park being brought forward so the transformation underway can continue.”

Leeds City Council’s executive board is set to meet on Wednesday, April 21 to discuss the plans.


  1. Oh No…. Why dont the council make car owners/drivers all criminals, as that is what they are trying to do. The road works around the city and poor road surfaces are partly to blame for congestion. Essential roadworks accepted, changing the roads completely is not necessary this year or the next few years. The council are supposed to be short of millions of pounds but keep spending. How about we all stop paying our rates, pay for the emergency services, refuse collecting and other essential services directly. Those that use the roads, cycle paths, can pay, plus those that use buses can pay a contribution to the highways. The days of the ID card, payment card are not that far away. Invest in technology. The cars are been forced off the road anyway, with the ever growing push for electric cars. At the end of the day, someone/some firm is making money from the projects and will continue to push projects that I believe the city cant afford at the moment. The people of Leeds would like a reduction in rates, not unwanted projects that will increase our rates. Plus…. The M621 is a fantastic legacy of the 1970’s. I use it every work day, otherwise my journey would be double the distance and double the fuel cost, through the city.

    • The main thing causing congestion is the volume of cars. The number of single occupant vehicles with 4 empty seats driving into Leeds every day is ridiculous.

      I totally get if you work out of town or in an area not served by public transport then driving is your best option. But more people need to walk or cycle, which in turn would make it easier for the exceptions to use their cars.

      When I were a lad everyone used to cycle to the factories and offices. But ask any cyclist now why they don’t ride into Leeds, they will all state one problem and it’s aggressive drivers. We all know the types, distracted by phones, tailgating, beeping, speeding, angry at the world etc. We didn’t have that problem in the 1950’s. Now it’s at least every other driver and it’s spoiling Leeds for everyone.

  2. Why the need for signal controlled cycle crossings because, as we know, the majority of cyclists totally ignore traffic lights or can’t use them as they regularly go the wrong way when using the ‘white elephant’ cycle lanes !!! It never fails to amaze me that Leeds City Council can continually contradict itself as this so-called report states that our road network has discouraged investment in the city but, when it suits their cause, the narrative is what a good job they, the Council, have done to encourage investment in OUR city. What’s the point of any public consultation because, as we know, this Council actually does whatever it wants regardless of public opinion!!!

    • Just admit you don’t like cyclists instead of trying to frame an argument of they are all bad, I see cars speeding/going through red lights all the time but don’t blame every driver like you do cyclists, it’s a lazy argument.

      Btw the cyclist pays council tax too, are they not entitled to improved infrastructure for them and what would your answer to Leeds transport issues be.

      • Everyone was their own opinions. Just as you cant blame all car drivers, for breaking the law, ( speeding, red lights etc) as the majority are good law abiding drivers. I cycle when I can, but not for work, as i work in Wakefield and a single journey would be a minimum of 2 buses and a long walk. cars, van, lorries are essential to the life of the city, its business and the people. Restricting them, slowing them down is not the only solution, especially for the long term.

  3. I agree cars are brilliantly useful and convenient but they are killing us and the planet. My fellow commentators illogical criticism of the council based on soundbites and populist views is infuriating.
    Investing to help everyone in the city have a better future is at the heart of what they do and they should be applauded for it.

    • Its not just the cars that are “killing us and the planet” Facrories, businesses anyone who uses just about any sort of energy. Battery/electric vehicles and even windfarms are not perfect. The batteries need mining of the earth for the precious metals that they use. Windfarms produce clean energy, but the still cost money to set up, the component parts which i believe the costs will not be recovered for many years. The USA and China are the biggest polluters of the world. The USA is try to help, but who will complain about China? Everyone needs to do their bit around the world. We just cant go back to Horse and Cart, technology is moving quickly and so the environment will improve too.. hopefully. These are just my first thoughts, but can be backed up with evidence. Everyone just take care, stay safe and do what YOU can to help the environment and I am sure we would all appreciate the council reducing the costs and keeping our rates down, when they are already millions in debt.

  4. 1. All the funding is from Government funds… just like the costs of the cycle lanes….if we don’t spend it here it will go elsewhere.
    2. Stating Leeds didn’t benefit from the motorways is arrant nonsense….. however
    3….. the environmental damage is undeniable but your talking about over 50 years ago and NO-ONE new or cared. ( The pollution from the industrial powerhouse Leeds still was back then was recognised but accepted as the price you paid)
    Aside from all this I’m intrigued as to where the traffic that crosses City Square now will be diverted…alas the Victorian infrastructure left around the area around the station makes it near impossible!!


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