The road to controversy.....
Doncaster’s east bypass from French Gate to Wheatley Lane was completed around 1972 and has arguably aroused more controversy than any other road constructed in the town.
To most local people it is unforgivable that the road has isolated St George’s church from the town centre, and caused the demolition of many noted buildings.
But the perceived need for the road can be traced to at least the 1930s, when the borough surveyor was asked to provide proposals for the intended route.
The idea did not gain momentum until Doncaster Corporation published a development plan for the town in 1951 in accordance with the 1947 Town & Country Planning Act.
The plan revealed that the Great North Road and the Sheffield-Grimsby trunk road, which intersected in the centre of Doncaster, were inadequate to cope with the increasing volume of traffic passing through the town.
New roads needed to be constructed to take traffic away from the town centre and the east bypass was among the ideas accepted to help resolve this.
The road was intended to take over from Thorne Road as the principal east-west route and link to the Wheatley industrial estate.
The first phase of the road carrying single-line traffic, was completed by the early 1960s. Buildings demolished as a result included two popular public houses, the Black Boy and Greyhound as well as part of St George’s National School.
A number of graves in St George’s churchyard also had to be removed. As many of them were more than 100 years old, consultation with relatives over the removal of the remains did not hinder the work, completed between 1957 and 1960.
Financial difficulties restricted implementation of the second phase until the early 1970s.
This caused problems not only for motorists but also pedestrians, who had to negotiated the busy traffic until subways, provided in the scheme, were constructed.
When work did begin, the road became a dual-carriageway.
The architectural merit of the buildings were sacrificed to the broader planning interests.
More than 100 buildings were demolished, including houses, pubs, a hotel and the public library.
The town’s architectural heritage suffered as a result of the road.
The once quiet and relaxing area around St George’s became a busy thoroughfare and St George Gate no longer reflects its former architectural splendour.
Peter Greaves was appointed Doncaster’s assistant borough engineer in 1958, then borough engineer from 1960 and director of technical services 1974-1985.
He oversaw many of the changes outlined in the town’s Development Plan.
I once asked him about the controversial decision of extending he east bypass alongside St George’s Church.
He said: “I was always sensitive to people’s emotions and requests and listened to what they had to say before arriving at my own decision, which I tried to arrive at in a sensible, well-balanced and logical way.
“At a public enquiry over the road’s projected route, I was asked two questions: Why can’t the road go underground or why can’t it run on the church’s north side?
“To the first question I answered, the road cannot go underground because we cannot get long enough ramps to achieve a sufficient depth.
“To the suggestion of extending it on the north side of the church I replied that we would have to create a kind of spiral to move from one level to another, ie from North Bridge to the course of the new road.
“And vehicles would have to be able to travel at speed which was consistent with traffic movement. Of course this was not possible.
“Building another bridge over the river like the one that was subsequently built was never on the cards at that time.”
Balancing progress against the destruction of the town’s historical fabric is a formidable problem.
Hopefully, the lessons learned from the construction of the east bypass can be used in future if similar dilemmas occur.