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Glasgow Inner Ring Road
Introduction | Townhead | Woodside | Charing Cross | Kingston Bridge | South & East Flanks

Breaking Ground:
Townhead Interchange

Aerial view of M8 motorway at Townhead Interchange (1980s)

The Inner Ring Road was a proposed motorway around the city centre of Glasgow. Only its north and west flanks were constructed, today part of the M8 motorway between Townhead Interchange and the Kingston Bridge. First mooted in Robert Bruce’s “First Planning Report” of 1945, formal proposals were not outlined until the publication of the “Interim Report on the Glasgow Inner Ring Road” in 1962. This report, produced by Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick and Partners on behalf of Glasgow Corporation, was the first of many recommending radical solutions to solve the city’s growing traffic problem.


This article details the design and construction of the Townhead Interchange, a key node in the north east corner of the Inner Ring Road. Partially completed in 1968, and expanded in the 1970s and 80s, the project involved the construction of a complex, sprawling interchange designed to allow for the seamless flow of traffic between the north and east flanks of the ring road, the Monkland Motorway and the Springburn Expressway.

Key Data

Glasgow Motorway Archive - Location Graphic


M8 (J15-16)


North Flank

Glasgow Motorway Archive - Designer Graphic


Scott Wilson

Kirkpatrick &


Glasgow Motorway Archive - Contractor Graphic





Glasgow Motorway Archive - Calendar Graphic





Glasgow Motorway Archive - Money Graphic


£3.1 million

(£45 million

in 2023)

Design and Planning

Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick & Partners, consulting engineer for the city's highway network, was awarded the contract for the design and procurement of the first stage of Townhead Interchange in 1963. The project was the first section of the Inner Ring Road to be taken forward. 

The interchange was expected to progress through three temporary layouts as adjacent sections of the Inner Ring Road and other routes were completed. This presented several challenges and led to a proposal that it be completed in stages.

Like many junctions on the urban section of the M8 motorway, Townhead Interchange combines elements of several high capacity junction types. Stage 1 included ten bridges, six underpasses, and thirteen sections of retaining wall. It was chosen to allow free flow movements between the east and north flanks of the Inner Ring Road, the Springburn Expressway and the Monkland Motorway. A design speed of 50mph was adopted for the main carriageways, reduced to 40mph for slip roads. Maximum gradients of 5% and 6% were utilised respectively.

Illustration of M8 Townhead Interchange (1965)

Townhead was designated as a Comprehensive Development Area in the late 1950s. This artist's impression, taken from a Highway Plan for Glasgow (1965) illustrates how the proposed motorway system would fit within the redeveloped area. 

The geometric design of the interchange was made difficult by the proximity of existing properties and by the absence, at the time, of design standards for urban motorways in the UK. Scott Wilson's engineers made use of Barnett's Tables (an American design practice) to calculate curves and gradients.

This led to a number of innovative and sometimes infamous solutions. The slip road from the A803 southbound to M8 westbound is one such example. Known as "Loop U" it features the second tightest radius of any slip road on the Glasgow network. The Stirling Road slip road joining the motorway from the right hand side is another.

Construction of M8 Townhead Interchange at Castle Street, Glasgow (1966)

Much of "old" Townhead was still standing when construction of the interchange began. In this photo from 1966, shops and tenements can be seen at the junction of Castle Street and Parliamentary Road. Supports for the motorway flyover are well under construction.

As on other parts of the Inner Ring Road, the engineers went to great lengths to reduce the visual impact of the new road. Clever landscaping and the compact, two level design ensures Townhead Interchange remains relatively unobtrusive given its size, importance and complexity.

It was recognised that community severance could blight the local neighbourhood and so a network of pedestrian overbridges, underpasses and walkways were incorporated within the project from an early stage.

Aerial photo showing construction of M8 Townhead Interchange (1966)

This aerial photo from 1966 provides an indication of the extent of the project. Around 50% of the interchange was constructed on empty land or on the line of the former Monkland Canal, however from Castle Street to Baird Street several properties were cleared.

Construction (Stage 1)

The Stage 1 construction contract, valued at £3.1 million, included 5,000 feet of M8 motorway, ramps to Castle Street and Alexandra Parade, and the completion of advance works for future structures. A variation to the contract was issued on 3rd April 1967 to include construction of the eastern part of the Woodside Section.

The contract was awarded to Marples Ridgeway Ltd. in November 1965. Work began on 3rd December following a ground-breaking ceremony attended by the Secretary of State for Scotland. Much site clearance and demolition had been undertaken in advance, causing considerable changes to the character of Castle Street, Parliamentary Road, Alexandra Parade and Royston Road. Other enabling works, including the infill of the Monkland Canal, were completed in 1963.

Construction of M8 Townhead Interchange, Glasgow (1967)

Townhead Interchange was the first section of motorway constructed within the city boundary. Work was well advanced when this photo was taken in May 1967, eleven months before the scheduled completion date.

The extension of Baird Street and a realignment of Alexandra Parade was completed in mid-1967. These changes were necessary to remove traffic from Parliamentary Road, which was scheduled for removal as part of the Townhead Comprehensive Development Area proposals.

East across the M8 at Townhead Interchange (mid-1970s)

Landscaping was a key part of the design and was well established by the mid-1970s. Stage 1 made allowance for later expansion. This included sufficient space for additional slip roads as seen below the M8 overbridge.

Stage 1 was opened on the 5th April 1968, the first section of the Inner Ring Road completed. Providing immediate traffic relief to three major radial routes, the short section of M8 motorway terminated on Craighall Road in the west until May 1971, and with Alexandra Parade in the east until May 1975. Several temporary surface streets connections were also brought into use.

In all, around 1.25 miles of motorway and all-purpose roads were constructed as part of the Stage 1 contract.

Townhead Interchange, Glasgow, from the west (November 1974)

By the mid-1970s, clearance of most of the buildings on Castle Street and Parliamentary Road had been completed. Stage 1 of the interchange had a fairly small footprint, but this increased considerably with the completion of Stages 2 & 3.

Construction (Stages 2 and 3)

Townhead Interchange was expanded in two stages undertaken between 1979 and 1987. Each stage comprised several construction contracts. The first included enabling works for the construction of the eastbound slip road from the M8 to the northbound Springburn Expressway and the realignment of Castle Street. The main contractor was Lilley Construction and work was completed in 1980.

The main Stage 2 contract followed and saw construction of the “Loop U” slip road to the M8 westbound, advanced earthworks for Stage 3 and sections of new drainage and retaining walls. This work was completed in 1983 by Whatlings Ltd.

M8 Townhead Interchange from the east (2013)

The interchange was completed by the mid-1980s. Despite the large number of slip roads and structures it has a low visual impact. This is down to the efforts of the design team who were keen to ensure all junctions on the Inner Ring Road have no more than two levels where possible.

The final contract, also built by Whatlings Ltd. was completed in December 1987. Stage 3 included the east facing slips roads to/from Stirling Road, the west facing slip roads to/from Castle Street and both carriageways of the Springburn Expressway (A803).

Overhead sign gantries, high mast lights and various alterations made to the surrounding local road network took place in each of these Stages.

Provision for connection to the east flank of the Inner Ring Road (already considerably downgraded in scope) was also included and remains visible today.

Townhead Today

Aside from the widening of a short stretch of carriageway in the 1990s, Townhead Interchange has changed little in the last 35 years. It remains a critical link in Glasgow’s motorway and roads network, carrying up to 100,000 vehicles every day.

One curious impact of the cancellation of the east flank is that temporary connections to Castle Street and Stirling Road remain in place after almost forty years. This convoluted layout has created a traffic bottleneck at the southern end of the junction. and Glasgow City Council has indicated that it wishes to make alterations to rectify this.

Townhead Interchange on the M8 motorway (1993)

Pedestrian walkways through the interchange remain busy though anti-social behaviour has blighted some parts, particularly round Castle Street Plaza and the Baird Street underpass. After more than fifty years of service many parts of the interchange are in need of some care and attention—significant refurbishment of the structures completed in Stage 1 is expected in the coming decade.

Townhead may lack the architectural interest of other sections of the Inner Ring Road, but it retains a unique charm thanks to its ingenious design and construction.

From the Archive


People who worked on the construction of the Inner Ring Road/M8 periodically make contact with the Scottish Roads Archive. Ian MacFarlane, an engineer who worked for Lilley Construction on the main Stage 2 contract, reached out to us in 2019. Lilley was a Glasgow based contractor best known for the Springburn Expressway and their work to reopen the Argyle Line.

Ian prepared a small paper about his work on the contract revealing some interesting stories from the job.


This fascinating and valuable insight is available to download here.

This article was first published in October 2020. Updated July 2023.

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