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Government and roads

The Trunk Roads Act of 1936

The expansion of road transport depended on the development of roads. The Roads Act of 1920 established a Road Fund to use motoring taxes for road building and improvement. By the Local Government Act of 1929, county councils were responsible for the maintenance of main roads. Despite the act, growth of long-distance traffic during the 1930s rendered local initiatives inadequate. The national roads policy dates from the Trunk Roads Act of 1936. The act put 4,505 miles of main roads outside large towns under the control of the Ministry of Transport, and laid out a blueprint for national roads development. It was not until 1955, however, that definite plans for Britain's first motorways were announced; the first section of the M1 was opened in 1959. A Green Paper in 1969 laid out plans for building trunk roads and motorways.

Road Haulage in the 1930s

During the 1930s, road haulage became a major competitor in the inland freight sector, undermining the profitability of the railways. The Royal Commission on Transport (1929-1931) condemned the lack of organisation and wasteful competition within the industry. In 1932, a conference under Sir Arthur Salter recommended a licensing system to regulate and control entry to the industry. The Road and Rail Traffic Act of 1933 established a differential licensing system for operators. 'A' licences were issued to general haulers, 'B' licences to those carrying goods belongings to themselves and customers, and 'C' to traders carrying just their own goods. The Licensing Authority could limit the number of A and B licence holders in accordance with perceived needs.


In 1943, the Ministry of War Transport set up a Road Haulage Organisation, which commandeered or hired many long-distance haulers. From 1945, the Labour government planned the nationalisation of the whole road haulage industry. There was, however, much opposition from the 'C' licence holders, who were eventually exempted from the Transport Act of 1947. Long-distance haulage was nationalised, while short-distance haulers holding 'A' and 'B' licences were restricted to operations within 25 miles of their base. By 1951, some 3,700 businesses had passed into the control of the British Transport Commission through the Road Transport Executive and integrated into a unit as British Road Services.