IT’S quietly slipped into oblivion over the years but one of the biggest civil engineering budget botch-ups (use a stronger phrase if you wish) of the second half of the 20th century occurred when they built the M5.

And it was all down to local knowledge against central government intransigence.

A new national road network had been announced in the 1930s but WW2 got in the way and things didn’t really start to happen until the late 40s.

In August 1946, the Worcester Evening News and Times (Worcester News’ predecessor) carried a report of a Worcestershire County Council meeting at which details of the new road were given.

It was to extend from Lydiate Ash down to Strensham where another length called the Ross Spur would head off towards Wales.

The county council, the police and particularly its county surveyor, the redoubtable HM “Jock” Thompson, made repeated representations for a dual three-lane standard motorway.

However, the Ministry of Transport knew better, insisting a dual two-lane motorway would suffice at a cost of around £8m.

Apparently, the carriageways were also built to a lower overall width of 88 feet rather than 100 feet to reduce the loss of agricultural land.

When it became necessary to widen the Worcestershire section of the M5 in the early 1990s, it cost £123m!

It all began on April 8, 1960, when Alderman E Guy Bigwood, a big wig on the county council and chairman of its highways and bridges committee, took a brand new spade and, in his suit and shiny shoes, dug a lump out of a farm field at Whittington on the outskirts of Worcester thus cutting the M5’s first sod.

Ald Bigwood’s physical contribution did not last long but in very short order his token gesture was followed by a small army of men and machines as what was then known as the Birmingham to Bristol motorway cut a swathe through the county.

While the obvious advantage of keeping the ever-increasing number of cars and lorries away from towns and cities could be appreciated, the impact of the massive project was to have consequences.

At Warndon, near Worcester, an elderly farmer watched in dismay as surveyors pegged out the line of the new road straight through his favourite oak wood.

When they had gone, he took himself into the wood with his dog and a gun. He first shot his dog and then himself. He knew life would never be the same again.

The 1946 report had announced: “Access to the new road will be severely limited to intervals of between five and 10 miles with existing roads acting as feeder points.”

Enthusiasm for the project was somewhat tempered by a query about whether councillors would get extra expenses for the increased meetings it involved!

Ten years later in August 1956, the county council and Worcester City Council submitted a joint plea urging the Ministry of Transport to get on with it.

Worcester was described as having “the worst traffic bottleneck outside London” and that if something was not done soon “Worcester will have a complete breakdown within the next year or two”.

Authority was given to invite tenders for the 77-mile stretch from Lydiate Ash to Strensham in November 1959 and 12 months later 10 had been received.

Eventually A Monk & Co of Warrington and London was given the job for £7,714,102.

Then Ald Bigwood got to work with his spade.

The Birmingham-Bristol Motorway (M5) was officially opened by Lord Chesham, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Transport, on July 20, 1962, because his boss Ernest Marples couldn’t make it.