[THIS WEEK] A new show in Manchester documents the ones that got away, writes James Pallister
When Michael Heseltine opened Ringway 1, protestors famously hung banners out their windows proclaiming, ‘Get me out of this Hell Hole!’, and one group drove a van the wrong way down the new West Cross Route between North Kensington and Shepherd’s Bush, which later became known as the Westway. Ringway 1 was never completed, and the huge demolition of parts of central London – and the addition of enormous elevated freeway-style motorways as part of the proposed ‘London Motorway Box’ – was avoided.
A similar fate met Manchester’s proposed Helipad network, whose plans were scuppered following the 1970s oil crisis. A landing site (behind Piccadilly Station, if you’re interested) was demarcated to make sure Manchester didn’t miss out on the then-predicted boom in intercity helicopter transport. Other helipad sites across the city, in Castlefield, Piccadilly Gardens and next to Strangeways prison, were considered. Like London’s GLC, the council also had plans for radial motorways which would have wiped out large parts of the Victorian city, but met with similar difficulties of land ownership.
Visitors to Manchester’s CUBE Gallery – still going strong despite fears of closure – can see all these finely worked-out plans in a new exhibition, Infra_MANC. It celebrates Mancunian infrastructure that was never quite realised, as well as some which was. Curators Martin Dodge and Richard Brook have cast light on some little-known built projects from less optimistic times, for example six miles of secret tunnels under Manchester’s Chinatown, built to protect the city’s vital telephone system against atomic bombs during the Cold War, but now closed to the public.
Visit Infra_MANC, 24 February – 17 March, CUBE Gallery, 113-115 Portland Street, Manchester, M1