Nearly fifty years ago Middlesex County Council was abolished; it disappeared into thin air but before doing so it scattered London and its approaches with monuments to years of frantic activity between the wars; these aimed both to combat unemployment and build the external skeleton of a modern mega-city.
The county council built the North Circular, Western Avenue, the Great West Road, the Cambridge Road, the Chertsey Road and the Watford and Barnet by-passes. and handsome bridges at Chiswick, Twickenham and (with Lutyens as its archtect) at Hampton Court.
The biggest example of the 30s building programme is mostly invisible: the 70 miles of new main sewers serving the new West London suburbs built under the Middlesex County Council act of 1931 with half of the £5.5 million bill paid for by central government on condition that three quarters of the workforce were recruited through local labour exchanges. The visible part of this undertaking — comparable with the original Victorian London sewerage programmes of Sir Joseph Bazalgette — is the 55 hectares of the Mogden Sewage works in Isleworth, the second biggest in the UK and serving 2.1 million people. It was built between 1931 qne 1934 and officially opened in 1936. An upgrade was completed in March 2013 which increased its capacity by 50%.
What’s more Middlesex pioneered green politics. It was the first ever local authority to obtain legal powers to prosecute people suspected of polluting rivers and to pay for remedial work. It also, at around the turn of the 20th century, began buying land to create riverside walks. This initiative was came decades before the first act of parliament to promote London’s Green Belt, in 1938; Middlesex in any case spent heavily during the 1930s buying land to keep it free of development — not just in Middlesex itself, but the 110 acres of the Ankerwycke Estate at Wraysbury and the 306 cres of Denham Court, both in Buckinghamshire, the 350 acres of Moor Park, Rickmanshworth in Herfordshire.
It’s a record that makes present day efforts to invest in infrastructure during a recession look timid.