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Chapter 19. Formation of the Road Construction Units

Volume 1 Part 7
Brief résumé of Chapter 19:
Formation of the Road Construction Units

Sir William Harris KBE, CB, MA, FEng, FICE
formerly Director General, Highways, Ministry of Transport
later Department of the Environment
Past President ICE

The next three chapters provide insights into practical processes which were entailed in implementing the policy of constructing a motorway system for England. Parts of these processes could only be conducted by staff of the Ministry because they involved settling policy. Moreover, since the finance was provided by the Exchequer, at every stage there was a monitoring and controlling function to be performed by the Ministry's staff in relation both to standards adopted by the Ministry and to the terms of the contracts which it placed. A professional force had to be marshalled and placed in design offices, site offices and the field itself to execute the programme.

For the first decade from the commencement of work in the field in 1956 this executive requirement was met partly by engaging local authorities' highways departments as agents of the Ministry of Transport and partly by the Ministry engaging firms of consulting engineers and other professions directly. This was the obvious way of improvising the required professional workforces as the programme began and gathered pace. The Ministry's own organisation went through successive developments and accumulating contractors' difficulties in the field and consequential financial claims accentuated the growing demand of the programme itself to be led and served by a larger workforce of qualified professional practitioners under unified management.

In the eight years from 1965 to 1973, Sir William was responsible for the planning, development, construction and maintenance of the Government's entire Road Programme in England, including the Motorway programme and the Trunk Roads, following a lead given to the Ministry by Neville Heaton. Sir William masterminded the creation of the Road Construction Units and Sub-Units in 1967-8 with staff from the Ministry and local authorities to discharge on a regional basis the tasks of designing and building the Motorway and Trunk Road network to which planning and re-planning had been devoted since World War II. In that period £2,200 million was spent on new road construction and 650 miles of motorway were built, completing the commitment of successive governments to the first 1,000 miles of Britain's motorways. The genesis and form of the re-organisation of engineering and administration within the Ministry are explained in this chapter in the words of a lecture which he delivered to an audience of the London School of Economics on 14th March 1967.