MT 106/153

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City of Westminster: Parliament Square and Bridge Street; possibilities of grade separation scheme

Date range1961-1965
LocationNational Archives (see all files stored here)
CatalogueSee entry
File baseSeries MT, subseries MT 106


In the early 1960s the Ministry of Transport was the traffic authority for central London's street network, meaning that it took a close interest in the movement of traffic on the capital's streets. In that time the men from the Ministry developed various schemes to improve the worst bottlenecks of the capital's roads, most of them being underpasses at Blackfriars, Euston, Aldwych and Hyde Park Corner.

A similar scheme was proposed at Parliament Square, which this file claims to have been one of the three busiest junctions in London. The site is rather complicated by its incredibly important location and surroundings, and it would be impossible to insert a conventional dual carriageway underpass here or any new sliproads or grade-separation. This file is not about a similar proposal to continue the Embankment around the outside of the Houses of Parliament either.

What was proposed was a scheme for two tunnels that would carry light traffic only and would have reduced headroom, something like the Aldwych Underpass. The whole area would be turned into a larger gyratory, using Richmond Terrace for eastbound travel so that Whitehall would be one-way northbound between Parliament Square and Richmond Terrace, and the Embankment would be one-way southbound for the corresponding stretch.

The southbound tunnel would descent from the Embankment and perform a double-bend under Bridge Street, emerging at Palace Yard so that traffic could continue south towards Lambeth Bridge. (There are occasional mentions of a complete grade-separation scheme at the end of Lambeth Bridge, but there are no details of that proposal here.) The northbound tunnel would begin south of Palace Yard and would descend to run underneath the southbound tunnel for a short distance, passing under the east side of Parliament Square to emerge in Whitehall. The tunnel mouth would be some 50 yards from the Cenotaph.

The scheme appears to have been dropped in about 1963 for a number of reasons.

  • Construction of the tunnels would have been difficult - in particular excavating deep trenches close to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey - and keeping traffic running through the works would have been almost impossible.
  • The tunnels would have been difficult to fit in with the surroundings, in particular the necessary desecration of Palace Yard and the Cenotaph.
  • The scheme would only have removed 17-25% of traffic from Parliament Square itself.

A new building for MPs accommodation was in planning at the time and initially the architects offered to include provision beneath it for the tunnel scheme. They were eventually informed that it would be unnecessary as the tunnels would not be proceeding. This building has since been replaced by Portcullis House.

People with camera copies

None known.