M56 shield
North Cheshire Motorway
M56 motorway from A5117.JPG
Looking east from Junction 14
Route information
Part of E22
Maintained by National Highways
Length33.3 mi (53.6 km)
  • Opened: 1971
  • Completed: 1981
Major junctions
East endCheadle
Major intersections
West endMollington
CountryUnited Kingdom
CountiesGreater Manchester, Cheshire
Road network
M55 M57

The M56 motorway, also known as the North Cheshire motorway, serves the Cheshire and Greater Manchester areas of England. It runs east to west from junction 4 of the M60 at Gatley, south of Manchester, to Dunkirk, approximately four miles (six kilometres) north of Chester. With a length of 33.3 miles (53.6 km), it connects North Wales and the Wirral peninsula with much of the rest of North West England, serves business and commuter traffic heading towards Manchester, particularly that from the wider Cheshire area, and provides the main road access to Manchester Airport from the national motorway network.[1]

Between junctions 9 and 16, the motorway forms part of the unsigned European route E22 on its route in the UK between Holyhead in Anglesey and Immingham in Lincolnshire.


Although the main line of the motorway starts as a continuation of the A5103 Princess Parkway, the M56 begins on the Sharston Spur (also known as the Sharston Bypass)[according to whom?] where it leaves the M60 motorway at its junction 4 (clockwise exit and anticlockwise entry), adjacent to where the slip roads for the A34 to and from Manchester merge and diverge. After passing through junctions 1 and 2, the spur joins the main line at junction 3, increasing the motorway from two lanes to four in each direction.

The motorway then heads south to the west of Wythenshawe and Manchester Airport until it reaches junction 6, where it turns west before crossing into Cheshire at the River Bollin underbridge. It runs to the south of Hale before reaching junctions 7 and 8 which are part of the same interchange complex. Junction 8 was planned to be used by the proposed A556(M)[2] but is now a single 270 degree loop between the southbound onslip from Bowdon roundabout to the westbound carriageway since the A556 towards the M6 motorway was upgraded to dual carriageway in 2017.[3] Traffic destined for the southbound M6 is directed to leave here (because there are no corresponding slip roads at its own junction) and so the junction can suffer from congestion.[according to whom?] Traffic levels on the mainline drop significantly as the motorway begins to assume a more traditional feel (three lanes and a hard shoulder per direction) whilst passing between Broomedge and High Legh.

After meeting the M6 at junction 9, the motorway passes south of Appleton Thorn and Stretton before reaching the outskirts of Runcorn at junction 11, near to where it also crosses over the Bridgewater Canal and the West Coast Main Line. On the other side of the town lies junction 12, whose northern roundabout morphed into a signalised hamburger junction when the Mersey Gateway bridge was built.[4] The concrete multi-span Weaver Viaduct (crossing both the river and its navigation course) immediately follows junction 12 and offers views of the town of Frodsham and its railway viaduct, along with the INEOS chemical plant and Rocksavage Power Station on the opposite side. Between junctions 12 and 14, it runs parallel to the River Mersey, Manchester Ship Canal, a 400kV overhead power line and the Chester-Warrington railway. After meeting the M53 motorway, the road finally returns to two lanes, it proceeds between Chester to the south and Ellesmere Port to its termination at Dunkirk, Cheshire, where it becomes the A494.

Traffic destined for North Wales can use either the M53 or the A494 to reach the A55.

The motorway is fully lit between the M60 and junction 6 (including all of its spurs) along with the junctions with both the M6 and M53.

There are two motorway service areas on the M56: Chester (operated by Roadchef) and Lymm (operated by Moto, also accessible from the M6).


The first proposal for a motorway across north Cheshire was mooted in 1947 in a report commissioned by Cheshire County Council,[5] with a line for the route of the motorway being agreed in 1958 between the council and the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation.[6] The first section, announced in November 1963 by the transport minister Ernest Marples, was a southwards extension of the Princess Parkway from Wythenshawe in Manchester to the A56 and A556 at Bowdon which entered the Trunk Road Programme for 1967/1968.[6] Construction began in 1968,[7] and the motorway opened in stages between 1971 and 1981:[8]

Proposals existed for an extension into North Wales across the proposed Dee Barrage,[10][11] but as of the 2020s these have never materialised.

The carriageway between junctions 4 and 6 was widened from the original dual 3 lane configuration to dual 4 lanes during the 1990s as part of a nationwide motorway widening programme first proposed in the 1989 Roads to Prosperity white paper.[12] Junction 5 became a lane drop/gain in both directions whereas junction 4 was reconfigured from a two-bridge roundabout to a signalised half-diamond with a single bridge.[13]

Prior to 2008, the western end of the motorway terminated at a roundabout on the A5117. Work began in 2006 to grade-separate this junction (and others) to allow free-flowing traffic between the motorway and the A550 at Deeside in North Wales, meaning that the mainline motorway no longer connects to the roundabout (it meets the extended A494 head-on 235 metres east),[14] with the former eastbound carriageway retained as an on-slip.[15]


This article contains a bulleted list or table of intersections which should be presented in a properly formatted junction table. Please consult this guideline for information on how to create one. Please improve this article if you can. (December 2021)

Data[16] from driver location signs is used to provide distance information.

M56 motorway junctions
mile km Eastbound exits (B Carriageway) Junction Westbound exits (A Carriageway)
Motorway merges onto M60 continuing towards Stockport M60 J4 Start of motorway
(Sharston Spur)
Manchester City Centre, Didsbury A34 J1 No access (on-slip only)
No access (on-slip only) J2 Altrincham, Wythenshawe A560, Liverpool (M62), Bolton (M61) (M60)
Princess Parkway Spur ↓
End of motorway
Mauritius Road Signs - Information Sign - End of Motorway.svg

Road continues as
A5103 towards Manchester
J3A Sharston, Altrincham, Baguley A560
Altrincham, Wythenshawe, Wythenshawe
UK traffic sign 827.2.svg
, Cheadle A560
Start of motorway
(Princess Parkway Spur)
UK motorway symbol.svg
Manchester City Centre, (M60(N&W)), (M62(W)), (M61) (A5103) J3
No access (on-slip only)
7.2 11.6 No access (on-slip only) J4 Wythenshawe
Airport Spur ↓
End of motorway
Mauritius Road Signs - Information Sign - End of Motorway.svg

Wilmslow, Wythenshawe A555 (B5166), Business Park, Terminal 3
Terminal 1,
UK traffic sign 543.svg
Start of motorway
(Airport Spur)
UK motorway symbol.svg
Terminal 2 No access (on-slip only)
7.8 12.6 Manchester Airport interchange J5 Manchester Airport interchange, Quarry Bank Mill
8.9 14.3 Hale, Wilmslow, Macclesfield A538 J6 Wilmslow, Hale, Macclesfield, Manchester Airport Freight Terminal A538
Entering Greater Manchester River Bollin
River Bollin Entering Cheshire
12.4 19.9 Northwich A556, Altrincham A56 J7 Birmingham (M6(S)), Northwich A556,

Lymm A56

No access J8 No access (on-slip only)
17.6 28.3 Preston, Birmingham M6, Leeds, Manchester (N) (M62), Lymm (A50)
Lymm Truck Stop
Preston M6, Liverpool (M62), Warrington, Lymm (A50)
Lymm Truck Stop
20.8 33.4 Warrington, Northwich A49 J10 Northwich, Warrington A49
23.8 38.3 Runcorn (East), Warrington A56 J11 Preston Brook, Daresbury A56
26.8 43.1 Liverpool Airport interchange, Runcorn, Widnes A557 J12 Liverpool Airport interchange, Frodsham, Runcorn, Widnes A557
Weaver Viaduct
31.9 51.4 Stanlow, Helsby A5117
Chester services
Helsby, Stanlow, Chester Zoo A5117
Chester services
34.5 55.6 No access (on-slip only) J15 Chester, Wrexham M53
No access (on-slip only) Ellesmere Port, Birkenhead M53
Start of motorway
UK motorway symbol.svg
J16 No access
Ellesmere Port A5117, Whitchurch (A41)
Non-motorway traffic
End of motorway
Mauritius Road Signs - Information Sign - End of Motorway.svg

Road continues as
A494 towards North Wales
1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi

Junction 7 slip closures

At junction 7 in July 2009, the slip road letting traffic come in southbound along the M56 and turn onto the A556 southbound was closed while the bridge where it crosses the M56 (the Bowdon View Bridge), which for many years had had a weight restriction, was worked on; traffic intending to use it had to carry on to junction 10 and there turn round, or go through the centre of Altrincham; traffic for the nearby Tatton Park Flower Show, and the resulting closure to through traffic of the minor road along the southwest edge of Tatton Park from Ashley, Cheshire to Mere, Cheshire (which would otherwise have acted as a bypass for people living in the area), added to the resulting congestion.

In October and November 2010, the bridge was demolished and replaced.[17][18][19][20]

Thorley Lane bridge replacement

On Saturday 28 February and Sunday 1 March 2015, the new concrete girders of the Thorley Lane bridge a little north of Manchester Airport were put in. (The old bridge was demolished because it was found to be cracking.) The M56 was closed over that weekend for this. This caused much traffic congestion from M56 traffic diverted through Altrincham and Wythenshawe and along Styal Road and Kingsway, starting on Thursday 26 March because of work putting cones on the carriageway.

Traffic counts


Section Capacity AADT (2019) Count point data
J1-J2 D2 96,643 Decrease 6046, 73773
J2-J3 72,019 Increase 36045
(Princess Parkway Spur)
D3 102,674 Increase 99833
J3-J4 D4 174,693 Increase 26047
J4-J5 150,675 Decrease 6047
Airport Spur D2 67,863 Increase 89289
J5-J6 D4 138,257 Increase 16044
J6-J7 D3 118,528 Increase 46044
J7-J8 82,528 Increase 8025
J8-J9 87,582 Increase 6048
J9-J10 117,996 Decrease 56047, 73275
J10-J11 107,049 Decrease 16045, 73448
J11-J12 100,488 Decrease 46045
J12-J14 113,408 Decrease 26049, 73282
J14-J15 120,523 Increase 7831
J15-J16 D2 44,042 Increase 37919


Smart motorway

The government announced in August 2015[22] that the motorway between junctions 6 and 8 would be upgraded to a smart motorway as part of its Northern Powerhouse strategy; work began in 2020 with completion anticipated by the end of 2021.[23] The project will with the exception of the slip roads at the airport junction give the motorway four running lanes on each carriageway between junctions 3 and 7, a distance of seven miles.

The Minister of State for Transport however ruled out similar work being undertaken between junctions 12 and 14 before 2020, despite pressure from MPs whose constituencies lie near the motorway.[24]

Junction 11a

There was also to be a new junction 11a at Runcorn between the existing Junctions 11 and 12 to relieve heavy congestion on this stretch and serve the new Mersey Gateway bridge. However, this project was cancelled by Highways England in Spring 2020 as it didn't represent value for money.[25][26]

M56 corridor

"The M56 corridor" is a term used by estate agents and social geographers to describe what is considered to be a relatively affluent area of North West England, within easy reach of the M56. The area includes the cities of Manchester and Chester, and commuter towns and villages in rural Cheshire. It also includes Warrington and Runcorn where the chemical and pharmaceutical industries are prominent.[27]

See also


  1. ^ "Motorway Database » M56". CBRD. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  2. ^ Steven Jukes. "Pathetic Motorways - A556(M)". Pathetic.org.uk. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  3. ^ "New £192m bypass opens linking M6 and M56 motorways". BBC News. BBC. 6 March 2017. Retrieved 8 August 2022.
  4. ^ "Section 8: M56 Junction 12". www.merseygateway.co.uk. Mersey Gateway Project. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  5. ^ Chapman, W. Dobson (1947). County Palatine: A Survey and Plan for Cheshire.
  6. ^ a b "The Motorway Archive - M56 Scheme Introduction". Iht.org. Archived from the original on 13 May 2008. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  7. ^ "The Motorway Archive - M56 Dates Page". Iht.org. Archived from the original on 21 August 2008. Retrieved 1 January 2012.[dead link]
  8. ^ "CBRD Motorway Database - M56 Timeline". cbrd.co.uk. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  9. ^ "M56 Lea-by-Backford to Hapsford (J16 to J14)". www.iht.org. The Motorway Archive Trust. Archived from the original on 13 May 2008. Retrieved 15 January 2021.
  10. ^ "The Motorway Archive - M56 J16 to J14". Iht.org. Archived from the original on 14 October 2008. Retrieved 1 January 2012.[dead link]
  11. ^ Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Commons, Westminster. "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 23 July 1993 - Column 403". Publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 1 January 2012.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ John Bourn (21 October 1993). "Progress on the Department of Transport's Motorway Widening Programme" (PDF). www.nao.org.uk. National Audit Office. p. 35. Retrieved 18 January 2021.
  13. ^ "Wythenshawe Junction". www.sabre-roads.org.uk. The Society for All British and Irish Road Enthusiasts. Retrieved 18 January 2021.
  14. ^ "The M56 Motorway (Hapsford to Lea-by-Backford Section) and Connecting Roads Scheme 1976 (Partial Revocation) Scheme 2006". www.legislation.gov.uk. The National Archives. Retrieved 12 January 2021.
  15. ^ "Highways Agency - A5117 / A550 Deeside Park Junctions Improvement". Highways.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 5 February 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  16. ^ Driver Location Signs, Highway Agency Area 10 (map) - Highway Authority, 2009
  17. ^ "Bridge repair work on M56 extended to three weekends". BBC News. 18 October 2010. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
  18. ^ "M56 Bowdon View Bridge successfully demolished". Fidgetwith.com. 18 October 2010. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  19. ^ "M56 Junction 7 Bowdon View Bridge Replacement and Junction Improvement". Highways.gov.uk. 4 July 2011. Archived from the original on 27 August 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  20. ^ "M56 bridge repair works continue near Bowdon". BBC News. 23 October 2010.
  21. ^ "Stockport Traffic counts". dft.gov.uk. Department for Transport. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  22. ^ Clay, Oliver (11 August 2015). "Government confirms M56 will be upgraded to smart motorway with extra junction in Runcorn". CheshireLive. Retrieved 13 May 2021.
  23. ^ "M56 junction 6 to 8 smart motorway". www.highwaysengland.co.uk. Highways England. Retrieved 13 January 2021.
  24. ^ Norbury, David (21 November 2015). "M56 smart motorway won't happen before 2020". Cheshire Live. Reach plc. Retrieved 6 August 2021.
  25. ^ "Building of new M56 junction in Cheshire to start in less than three years - Cheshire Live".
  26. ^ "A Highways England road project - M56 new junction 11a". highways.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 8 August 2020. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  27. ^ "M56 corridor dated 2008-09-17". Property Week article. 19 April 2002. Archived from the original on 14 November 2017. Retrieved 1 January 2012.(subscription required)

Route map:

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