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"London Orbital" redirects here. For the book of this title, see Iain Sinclair.

The M25 motorway is a 117 mile (188 km) orbital motorway which encircles Greater Londonmarker, United Kingdom except for the tolled Dartford Crossingmarker (A282) where it crosses the River Thames to the east of London. It was first mooted early in the 20th Century; a few sections were constructed in the early 1970s based on the later abandoned London Ringways and the motorway was finally completed in 1986. It is one of the world's longest orbital roads and is also one of the busiest and most congested sections of the British motorway network. It has been widened in a number of places and currently varies between 6 lanes to 12 lanes in width (across both carriageways) and 196,000 vehicles were recorded in a single day near London Heathrow Airportmarker. Plans to widen additional sections to 8 lanes (4 in each direction) were scaled back in 2009 in response to escalating costs


For the majority of its length the motorway has six lanes (three in each direction), although there are a few short stretches under junctions which are four-lane and the stretch from junctions 12 to 6 and areas around Dartfordmarker are eight lane. The motorway was widened to ten lanes between junctions 12 and 14, and twelve lanes between junctions 14 and 15, in November 2005.

The M25 is not a continuous loop. To the east of London, the toll crossing of the Thames between Thurrockmarker and Dartfordmarker is the lesser grade A282. The Dartford Crossingmarker, which consists of two tunnels and the QE2 bridgemarker, is named Canterbury Way. Passage across the bridge or through the tunnels is subject to a toll, dependent upon the type of vehicle. Designating this stretch as a motorway would mean that traffic not permitted to use motorways could not cross the Thames east of Woolwichmarker.

At junction 5 near Sevenoaksmarker, a driver continuing around the M25 in either direction must follow the slip roads, as the anticlockwise carriageway continues as the M26 to the east (towards the M20) and the clockwise as the A21marker towards the south coast.

The distance of the motorway from central London (taken as Charing Crossmarker) varies from approximately 12 miles (20 km) near Potters Barmarker to 20 miles (32 km) near Byfleet. In some places (Enfield, Hillingdon and Havering) the Greater London boundary has been realigned to the M25 for minor stretches; while in others, most notably in Essex and Surrey, it is many miles distant. Major towns such as Epsommarker, Watfordmarker, and Loughtonmarker are within the M25. North Ockendonmarker is the only settlement of Greater London situated outside the M25. In 2004, following an opinion poll, a move was mooted by the London Assembly to align the Greater London boundary with the M25.

The three service areas are located in the central north (Junction 23 South Mimms), south east (Clacket Lane) and central east (Thurrock). A fourth, at Clandon, is due to open in 2010.

Large sections of the M25 are illuminated with the aim of reducing accidents on the road. The current illuminated sections are Dartford to junction 3, junctions 6 to 16, junctions 18 to 21A, and junctions 23 to 31. The type of lights on the M25 varies, with some of the sections using the older yellow low-pressure sodium (SOX) lighting, and others with modern high-pressure sodium (SON) lighting. Some stretches have recently been upgraded to SON. These include Junction 5, junctions around Heathrow and 27.

The road passes through several police force areas. Junctions 1–5 are in Kentmarker, 6–14 in Surreymarker (passing in places through Greater London and Berkshire), 15–16 are in Buckinghamshire, 17–24 are in Hertfordshiremarker, 25 in Greater Londonmarker (the Hertfordshire border going around the junction's northern edge), 26–28 in Essex, 29 in Greater London and 30–31 in Essex. Policing the road is carried out by an integrated policing group made up of the Metropolitan, Thames Valley, Essex, Kent, Hertfordshire and Surrey forces.

It is one of Europe's busiest motorways, with 196,000 vehicles a day recorded in 2003 between junctions 13 and 14 near London Heathrow Airportmarker,.


Plans and construction

Map of Ringways 3 & 4 showing sections combined to form the M25

The idea of an orbital road around London was first proposed early in the 20th century and was re-examined a number of times during the first half of the 20th century in plans such as Sir Charles Bressey's and Sir Edwin Lutyens' The Highway Development Survey, 1937 and Sir Patrick Abercrombie's County of London Plan, 1943 and Greater London Plan, 1944. Abercrombie's plan proposed a series of five roads encircling the capital

A precursor of the M25 was the North Orbital Road (see A414 road).

In the post-war years little was done to implement Abercrombie's plans but in the 1960s the Greater London Council developed an ambitious plan for a network of ring roads around the capital. The London Ringways plan was hugely controversial due to the destruction required for the inner two ring roads and the enormous anticipated cost. The plan was modified a number of times to overcome opposition from the residents of threatened areas and the government, but was cancelled in 1973. Parts of the two outer ring roads, Ringways 3 and 4, were begun in 1973 and became the first two sections of the M25 to open in 1975 (junction 23 to junction 24) and 1976 (junction 6 to junction 8).The M16 motorway was the designation planned in the late 1960s and early 1970s for use on Ringway 3, a new motorway planned as part of the London Ringways Plan to run a circular route around London.

Construction of the first section of the M16 began in 1973 between South Mimms and Potters Bar in Hertfordshire and opened in September 1975 with the temporary general purpose road designation A1178. During construction of the first section of the motorway, the majority of the Ringways plan was cancelled and, in 1975 the plans for Ringway 3 were modified to combine it with parts of another motorway, Ringway 4, the outermost Ringway.

The M16 designation was dropped and the combined motorway was given the designation M25 which had originally been intended for the southern and western part of Ringway 4. The section of Ringway 3 west of South Mimms anti-clockwise around London to Swanley in Kent was cancelled and the section clockwise from Potters Bar to the Dartford Tunnel was constructed between 1979 and 1982. The section of Ringway 3 south of the river between Dartford and Swanley was constructed between 1974 and 1977.

Construction of the M25 continued in stages until its completion in 1986. The stages were not constructed contiguously but in small sections, such as Dartford to Swanley (junction 1 to junction 3) and Potters Barmarker to Enfield Townmarker (junction 24 to junction 25). As the orbital road developed the sections were linked. Each section was presented to planning authorities in its own right and was individually justified, with almost 40 public inquiries relating to sections of the route. Maps at this time depicting these short sections named the route as the M16 but this changed before completion. The northern sections of the M25 follow a similar route to the World War II Outer London Defence Ringmarker.

The M25 was officially opened on 29 October 1986 with a ceremony by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who opened the section between J22 and J23 (London Colneymarker and South Mimmsmarker). The initial tenders for the construction of the M25 totalled £631.9 million. This did not include compulsory purchase of land and subsequent upgrades and repairs.

Operational history

Soon after the motorway opened in 1986 traffic levels exceeded maximum designed capacity and in 1990 the Secretary of State for Transport announced plans to widen the whole of the M25 to four lanes. By 1993 the motorway that was designed for a maximum of 88,000 vehicles per day was carrying 200,000, 15% of UK motorway traffic volume was on the M25 and there were plans to add 6 lanes to the section from Junction 12 to 15 as well widening the rest of the motorway to 4 lanes

In 1995 a contract was awarded to widen the section between junctions 8 and 10 from dual three to dual four lanes for at a cost of £93.4 million and a Motorway Incident Detection and Automatic Signalling (MIDAS) system was introduced to the M25 from junction 10 to junction 15 at a cost of £13.5m in 1995 and then extended to junction 16 at a cost of £11.7m in 2002. This consists of a distributed network of traffic and weather sensors, speed cameras and variable-speed signs that control traffic speeds with little human supervision, but has done little to alleviate traffic problems.

In 1995 there were again proposals to widen the section from close to Heathrow Airport, this time to 14 lanes, which attracted fierce opposition from road protesters opposing the Newbury Bypass and other schemes and was canceled shortly afterwards. However, in 1997 the Department of Transport announced new proposals to widen the section from junction 12 (M3) and junction 15 (M4) to 12 lanes. At the Terminal Fivemarker public inquiry a Highways Agency official said that the widening was needed to accommodate traffic to the proposed new terminal, however the transport minister said that no such evidence had been given. Environmental groups objected to the decision to go ahead a scheme that would create the widest motorways in the UK without holding a public inquiry. The decision was again deferred. A decision to go-ahead was given for a 10-lane scheme in 1998 and was finally opened in 2005 with dual five lanes from junctions 12 to 14 and dual six lanes from 14 to 15.

In 2007 capacity at junction 25 (A10/Waltham Cross) was increased and the Holmsdale Tunnel was widened to 3 lanes in a eastern direction at a cost of £75 million.

Work to widen the exit slip-roads in both directions at Junction 28 (A12 roadmarker/A1023) was completed in 2008. It was designed to reduce the amount of traffic queueing on the slip roads at busy periods, particularly traffic from the clockwise M25 joining the northbound A12 where the queue can extend onto the inside lane of the Motorway.

Design, Build, Finance and Operate' (DBFO) contract

In 2006 the Highways Agency proposed to widen 63 miles of M25 from six lanes to eight lanes, between junctions 5-6 and 16-30 as part of a Design, Build, Finance and Operate (DBFO) project. A shortlist of contractors was announced in October 2006 for the project which was expected to cost £4.5 billion. Contractors were asked to resubmit their bids in January 2008 and in June 2009 the new transport minister indicated that the cost had risen to £5.5 billion and the benefit to cost ratio had dropped considerably. In January 2009 the government announced that plans to widen the sections from Junction 5-7 and from 23-27 had been 'scrapped' and that Hard shoulder running would be introduced instead.

In 2009 a £6.2 billion M25 'Design, Build, Finance and Operate' (DBFO) Private finance initiative contract was awarded to widened the sections between junctions 16 and 23 and between junctions 27 and 30 and maintain the M25 and the Dartford Crossing for a 30 year period. Two further sections, between Junctions 23 and 27 and between junctions 5 and 7, are included as 'options' within the DBFO contract as a

Current developments

M25 Jct 16 to 23 Widening

Works on widening the motorway between junctions 16 and 23 (M40-A1(M)) started in July 2009 at an estimated cost of £580m.

M25 Jct 27 to 30 Widening

Widening between junctions 27 to 28 (M11-Thurrock) started in July 2009 with the rest of the work following in 2010 and 2011.

Proposed developments

M25 Jct 5 to 7 Widening

Plans to introduce hard shoulder running on the M25 from Junctions 5 to 7 (M26 – M23/Redhill) with work starting after the London Olympics in 2013 opening in 2016.

M25 Jct 23 to 27 Widening

Plans to introduce hard shoulder running on the M25 from Junctions 23 to 27 (A1(M)-M11) with work starting after the London Olympics in 2013 opening in 2016.

Junction 30 improvement

In 2007 as part of the Thames Gatewaymarker Delivery Plan plans were announced to increase capacity at Junction 30 (Thurrock). Following a review by the Highways Agency an announcement on the recommended scheme is expected by the end of 2008. An early estimate on the start of major works is given for 2013/2014.

Lower Thames Crossing

In 2009 the Department for Transport published options for a new Lower Thames Crossing to add capacity to the Dartford Crossing or create a new road and crossing linking to the M2 and M20 motorways.


Other cities encircled by motorways include Manchestermarker using the M60 motorwaymarker, Birmingham using parts of the M5, M6 and M42 and from 2011 Glasgow will have an orbital motorway made of the M8, M73 and M74 although one section of the route passes through the centre of the city.

The M25 is the second-longest ring road in Europe, after the Berlin Ring (A 10) which is 5 miles (8 km) longer.

The M25 is one of the busiest motorways in Europe:-

  • M25 around London: 196,000 vehicles a day recorded in 2003 between junctions 13 and 14 near London Heathrow Airportmarker,.
  • A23 (near Viennamarker): More than 200,000 vehicles on an average day.([3226])
  • A 100 (near Berlinmarker): 216,000 vehicles in a day was recorded recorded in 1998([3227])
  • A4 motorway (near Parismarker): 257,000 vehicles a day recorded in 2002 ([3228])).

Popular culture

The multi level junction with the M23.

The M25 (including the A282 Dartford Crossingmarker) is known for its frequent traffic jams. These have been the subject of so much comment from such an early stage that even at the official opening ceremony Margaret Thatcher complained about "those who carp and criticise". The jams have inspired jokes ("the world's biggest car park", "the London Orbital Car Park"), songs (Chris Rea's "The Road to Hell") and the following tongue-in-cheek theory:

The M25 was also mentioned in the popular British sketch comedy show, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. In a sketch featuring Dominic Appleguard, the title character, played by Fry, is shown to be mentally different. After stating, "you can always trust him with a peony and a cod", and showing Stephen Fry holding a cod over two large red peonies and rocking it in his arms like a baby, Hugh Laurie's voice over continues, "Dominic Appleguard designed the M25."

The road enjoyed a more positive reputation among ravers in the late 1980s as the then new Orbital Motorway was a popular route to the parties that took place around the outskirts of London. The use of the M25 for these raves inspired the name of electronic duo Orbital.


The orbital nature of the motorway, in common with racetracks, lent itself to unofficial, and illegal, motor racing. At the end of the 1980s, before the advent of speed enforcement devices, owners of supercars, many employed in the financial service industry in the Citymarker and in Docklandsmarker, would meet at night at service stations such as South Mimms and conduct time trials. Times below 1 hour were achieved; an average speed of over 117 mph (188 km/h), which included coming to a halt at the Dartford Tunnelmarker toll payment booths.


Datafrom driver location signs are used to provide distance and carriageway identifier information.

M25 Motorway
km Clockwise exits (A Carriageway) Junction Anti-clockwise exits (B Carriageway)
Dartford Crossingmarker A282
5.7 Erithmarker A206 J1a Swanscombemarker A206
7.5 Dartfordmarker A225 J1b No Exit
8.8 London (South East), Canterburymarker A2, (M2), Bluewatermarker

Dartford (A225)
J2 London (South East), Canterbury A2, (M2), Bluewater
14.0 London (South East) A20

Maidstonemarker M20

Swanleymarker B2173
J3 Maidstone, Channel Tunnelmarker, Folkestonemarker, Dovermarker M20

London (South East), Swanley A20
19.6 Bromleymarker A21marker

Orpingtonmarker A224
J4 Bromley A21

Orpington A224
26.2 – 26.4 Sevenoaksmarker, Royal Tunbridge Wellsmarker, Hastingsmarker A21 J5 Maidstone, Channel Tunnel, Folkestone, Dover M26 (M20)

Sevenoaks, Royal Tunbridge Wells A21
33.8 Clacket Lane services
41.6 East Grinsteadmarker, Eastbournemarker, Caterhammarker, Godstonemarker A22marker

Westerhammarker (A25)
J6 East Grinstead, Eastbourne, Caterham, Godstone, A22

Redhill (A25)
46.0 Gatwick Airport, Crawleymarker, Brightonmarker, East Grinstead, Croydonmarker M23 J7 Gatwick Airport, Crawley, Brighton, Croydon M23
51.4 Reigatemarker, Sutton A217

Redhillmarker (A25)
J8 Reigate, Suttonmarker A217

Kingstonmarker (A240)
62.0 Leatherheadmarker A243

Worthingmarker (A24)
J9 Leatherhead A243

Worthing (A24)
63.5 Cobham Services

(Scheduled opening 2010)
72.4 London (South West), Sutton, Guildfordmarker, Portsmouthmarker A3 J10 London (South West), Guildford,Portsmouthmarker, A3
80.2 Chertseymarker A317

Wokingmarker A320
J11 Woking A320

Chertsey A317
83.8 Basingstokemarker, Southamptonmarker, Richmondmarker M3 J12 Basingstoke, Southampton, Richmond M3
88.8 Stainesmarker A30 J13 London (West), Staines, Windsormarker A30
91.8 Heathrow Airportmarker (Terminals 4, 5 and Cargo) A3113 dedicated spur J14 Heathrow Airport (Terminals 4, 5 and Cargo) A3113 dedicated spur
95.0 The WEST, Sloughmarker, Readingmarker, London (West), Heathrow Airport (Terminals 1, 2 and 3) M4 J15 The WEST, Slough, Reading, London (West), Heathrow Airport (Terminals 1 2, and 3) M4
102.6 Birminghammarker, Oxfordmarker, Uxbridgemarker, London (West) M40 J16 Birmingham, Oxford, Uxbridge, London (West) M40
110.5 Maple Crossmarker (A412) J17 Maple Cross, Rickmansworthmarker (A412)
112.5 Rickmansworth, Chorleywoodmarker, Amershammarker A404 J18 Chorleywood, Amersham A404
Watfordmarker A41 J19 No Exit
118.7 Hemel Hempsteadmarker, Aylesburymarker A41 J20 Hemel Hempstead, Aylesbury A41

122.8 The NORTH, Lutonmarker & Airportmarker M1 J21 The NORTH, Luton & Airport M1
123.7 Watford A405

Harrowmarker (M1 South)
J21A St Albansmarker A405

London (North West) (M1 (South))
129.7 St Albans A1081 J22 St Albans A1081
134.0 Hatfieldmarker A1(M)

London (North West) A1marker

Barnetmarker A1081

South Mimms services
Hatfield A1(M)

London (North West) A1

Barnet A1081
138.2 Potters Barmarker A111 J24 Potters Bar A111
147.1 Enfield Townmarker, Hertfordmarker A10marker J25 Enfield, Hertford A10
152.7 Waltham Abbeymarker, Loughtonmarker A121 J26 Waltham Abbey, Loughton A121
159.7 London (North East), Stansted Airportmarker, Harlowmarker, Cambridgemarker M11 J27 London (North East), Stansted Airport, Harlow, Cambridge M11
172.4 Chelmsfordmarker, Withammarker, Colchestermarker A12marker

Brentwoodmarker A1023
J28 Chelmsford, Romfordmarker A12

Brentwood A1023
176.8 Romford, Basildonmarker, Southendmarker A127 J29 Basildon, Southend A127
185.4 Thurrockmarker (Lakesidemarker), Tilburymarker A13 J30

Thurrock servicesmarker
Dagenhammarker, Thurrock (Lakeside), Tilbury A13, (A1306, A126, A1090)
186.6 No Exit J31 South Ockendonmarker, Dagenham A1306
Dartford Crossingmarker A282


  • Iain Sinclair, London Orbital: A Walk Around the M25, 2002, Granta Books, ISBN 1-86207-547-6
  • Roy Phippen, Travelling M25 Clockwise, 2005, Pallas Athene, ISBN 1-873429-90-8
  • Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens, Pages 13–14, 2006, William Morrow, New York, ISBN 0-06-085396-4

External links

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