Posted May 16, 2014 by AutoBookMobile in Blog

Book Launch – The Belfast Urban Motorway

I was looking forward to the The Belfast Urban Motorway book launch but wasn’t sure what to expect from the event, which included a talk. However, the idea of a major unrealised road scheme in Belfast, Northern Ireland seemed intriguing, particularly as I’ve never heard it mentioned anywhere before. Many minor schemes may never see the light of day but surely such a far reaching scheme merits a mention somewhere.

The event took place in The MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre), a new arts venue in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. It is a very impressive building and I must admit that it was my first visit. There was a good turnout for the talk and the audience included a few people from the Roads Service.

Click here for more information on the book

The Belfast Urban Motorway: Engineering, Ambition and Social Conflict by Wesley Johnston

Book Launch & Talk on Thursday 2nd April 2014

Organised by PLACE in partnership with Colourpoint Books

Listen to the Podcast

Visit The Place-Making Podcast.

Stream or download Episode 004: Wesley Johnston

About the Author

Dr Wesley Johnston grew up in Omagh, County Tyrone. His PhD was in Software Engineering but he has always had a fascination with local history. His studies of old maps led him to explore the history of the local road network, eventually setting up a web site on the topic in 2006. Since then he has continued to both research the history of roads in Northern Ireland and act as a commentator on the current road network and its future development. He maintains an archive of historical material relating to all aspects of the local road network. He currently lives in Belfast with his wife and daughter, both of whom are very patient when Wesley makes detours to photograph obscure pieces of transport infrastructure.

The Belfast Urban Motorway, Wesley Johnston, Book Launch, meet the author

Dr Wesley Johnston (right) with Michael Beeney, AutoBookMobile.com

Appeal for Information

There must be an abundance of remarkable material on the Northern Ireland road network in private ownership. I would love the opportunity to make contact with anyone who has photographs or archive material on

(a) Any aspect of the development of our road network, or

(b) Craigavon New City

I can be contacted by email or on Twitter @niroads

I also maintain a web site full of information about the current road network, its history and plans for future road schemes at www.wesleyjohnston.com/roads

Wesley Johnston, May 2014

The book’s author, Dr Wesley Johnston, started his presentation by explaining how he first developed an interest in roads and planning. Wesley grew up in Omagh and became fascinated with the Omagh bypass which he photographed as it was being built. The first slide was a photo of the initial phase of the bypass taken near the secondary school I attended.

The Belfast Urban Motorway, Wesley Johnston, Book Launch, talk

Dr. Wesley Johnston, The Belfast Urban Motorway author

Growing up, Dr Johnston admitted designing his own town plan with an elaborate road system and showed us a detailed map he had drawn. Such an early interest in roads should have led to a career in town planning or as a roads engineer but I think it has enabled him to better understand and evaluate the many problems around transport infrastructure – a good skill for a writer.

Dr Johnston then talked about the evolution of his Northern Ireland Roads website, which has grown over the years to cover a lot of infrastructure related information such as road construction schemes. Having spent time on the website in the past it was nice to finally see who was behind it.

This interest led to him unearthing details about an ambitious motorway plan for Belfast which would have been implemented in the late 1960s. There are two aspects which I found interesting – the physical footprint of the road system and the social upheaval it would have caused.

If the motorway plans had gone ahead, Belfast would be a considerably different place now. It would probably be easier to get around the city but at the expense of some local residential streets and landmarks which would have been demolished. There were several protests against the motorway at the time. Dr Johnston pointed out the irony of buses being stopped by protesters  – just the type of service which benefitted the local residents.

The Belfast Urban Motorway, Wesley Johnston, Book Launch, protest

Local protests against the Belfast Urban Motorway

The other part of the story is the social and economic changes which contributed to the scheme being shelved. These included the start of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, spiralling costs and the engineering challenges.

It is fascinating to imagine how Belfast would look now if the scheme had gone ahead and to realise that the city still has similar problems to those in the 1960s, albeit with a lot more traffic. Today’s road developers share a lot of the same challenges with their predecessors – it has made me appreciate the difficulties of getting it right.

Dr Johnston expressed the thought that it may have been better that the scheme was shelved considering the unfortunate acronym for the project. Given the local propensity for renaming local landmarks (Balls on the Falls, Nuala with the Hula) then we were spared the obvious humour of the Belfast Urban Motorway.

All in all, it was a very entertaining talk and I look forward to reading the book.