Motorway Services Online

Areas Without Services

Motorway services should be as near as makes no difference to being 27 miles apart (although for a short time 12 miles was the standard practice, more information on this can be found in the Unbuilt Services section), sometimes the distance is much larger than this. This page takes a look at some of these routes and finds out why they're like this.

East Birmingham

M40 services sign
A sign listing the two different routes and their (lack of) services

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Birmingham has an orbital consisting of several motorways, some of which were built in stages.

Why has it gone wrong?
The M42 forms the eastern and southern section of the 'Birmingham Box', but it was built in many small stages. Things haven't been helped by the arrival of the M6 Toll which has its only service area at the other end.

How bad is it?
Well, if you're heading north-west it's 48 congested miles between Warwick on the M40 and Hilton Park on the M6. To be fair, there is an alternative route which is only a few miles longer: at the top of the M40 drivers have a choice of either taking the M42 north and the M6 west (with no services), or the M42 west then the M5 north, which leads to the M6 (with two services - Hopwood Park on the M42 and Frankley on the M5). The problem with this is that it means you can't use the M6 Toll if you want to, and if we should use the M42 west we might as well not bother having the M42 north at all.

If it wasn't for a recent development (see below) it would be 54 miles from Strensham on the M5 to Tamworth on the M42 too.

The problem is made worse by the fact that the M42 was recently upgraded to become the first motorway with hard shoulder running. This makes the road more complicated, making it harder to justify the extra confusion a new service area would introduce, but also increasing the demand for a service area.

And whilst we're having a whinge, the A46/M69 route is a popular route from the M40 to the M1 north avoiding the busy M42, and it could do with some more services as well!

Were there any plans to sort this out?
There were once plans for a service area on the M6 at Perry Barr which are now long gone. A few years ago we are pleased to announce that a new service area did open on the M42 at Hopwood Park - but it's on the wrong bit of the M42 to be of any use!

Are there any plans to sort this out?
Extra and Roadchef have both tried to build a service area at Catherine-de-Barnes, at or near M42 J5 and J6. However, it's very unpopular with the locals especially as it will be built on green belt land. In January 2009 the plans were, once again, dismissed. This isn't the first time plans have been refused here, and given that the Highways Agency have recently said that building a new service area here should be a high priority.

West London

Heavy traffic on the M25, but no services

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West London is the leader when it comes to a lack of services.

Why has it gone wrong?
All the motorways in the south east radiate around London and as a result you end up with numerous possible journeys and numerous distances which people could have gone without passing a service area. As a result, no-one really knew where they should put the services and when they did, the locals rejected the plans.

To complicate things further, many roads into London such as the A2 and A40 are now a lot faster and more important than they were twenty years ago, to the point where they are almost as good as a motorway. Today there is no space for any new services, so you're left with a motorway-like road with no services amongst motorways with no services.

How bad is it?
It's 81 miles from Toddington on the M1 to the next services as you head south, the little Pease Pottage on the M23 - that's almost three times too far! It's just the same distance from Oxford on the M40, and if you're heading north-west things are no better with it being 50 miles from Fleet on the M3 to South Mimms on the M25. Even if you just want to loop the M25, it's 65 miles from Clacket Lane to South Mimms. And remember, this is the most congested motorway in the UK, with travel times often being twice as long as they should be, so you need more services than ever!

Has it always been like this?
No. The M1 and the M4, the two original routes into the city, each have a service area within the M25 - London Gateway and Heston respectively. The problem only seems to have occurred as the M25 and surrounding roads were slowly pieced together.

It has been worse though, in the early nineties it was possible to drive from Dover to Telford using only motorways and not passing a single service area. During this period refuge areas were provided at junctions along the M40 until 1994 when Cherwell Valley opened. There were a whole host of reviews and plans drawn up before Oxford services opened and closed the gap further.

Were there any plans to sort this out?
When the M25 was officially opened in 1986 it was planned to have a fourth service area, Iver, between J15 (M4) and J16 (M40) just north of the railway crossing. This plan was dropped for no known reason, and it all went downhill from there.

Are there any plans to sort this out?
All sorts of people have been thinking about this one for years on end. New services are being planned at Cobham near J10 and one at Beaconsfield on the M40 at J2, the latter being noted because the A40 at the end of the M40 should be treated like a motorway even if it isn't officially one.

Beaconsfield opened its doors in 2010 and Cobham opened on 13th September 2012. What's more, the Highways Agency have said that even with Cobham open, the M25 still won't have enough services.

Gloucestershire

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This is an odd one. Compared to the other two areas, there isn't really a problem here, but several proposals for a new service area here has brought the issue to general attention.

Why has it gone wrong?
From a traffic point of view, the M5 here has two focal points: one is at the northern end at Birmingham (where it meets the M6 and the M42) and one is in the middle at Bristol (where it meets the M4). What appears to have happened is that the services at the northern end were built a set distance from that focal point, as were the services in the middle section, leaving a gap in the middle where the two plans fail to meet each other.

How bad is it?
Compared to the M25 or the M42, it's not too bad at all, but the problem is that during the holiday periods the M5 sees rises in traffic levels on a scale that no other motorway can think of. This means that what is only a small problem gets exasperated as the M5 is full of traffic and the existing services are unable to cope.

It's also worth noting that as there are no services on the M50, which meets the M5 in Gloucestershire, traffic heading north on the M5 and then along the M50 and onto the A40 (and vice-versa) does go a long distance without passing any services. This is what originally brought the problem to widespread attention. However, the route listed is a very long way around, especially considering that the M5 itself meets the A40 much earlier on. It's only seen as a problem because the roads are motorways.

Were there any plans to sort this out?
Like many more motorways, in the 1970s there was an urge to increase the number of services on the M5, with Staverton and Moreton Valence being planned here. These were dropped at the same time as other similar schemes, and it was decided that the M5 didn't desperately need any new services.

Are there any plans to sort it out?
Yes. Gloucester services has been opened by Westmorland. But the southbound side has not been opened yet.

North Yorkshire

A closed Little Chef at Rainton

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This one pushes the rules a bit, as it's not a motorway and there are services here. However, it's a very fast section of the A1 that is in the process of becoming a motorway, and there simply aren't enough services.

Why has it gone wrong?
Services on the A1 have evolved throughout time, with garages and restaurants setting up alongside the road which would change its course every now and again. As times change, a number of these have closed. In rural areas like the A1 in North Yorkshire, there are likely to be fewer facilities as it is harder to open shop on the rural road.

The A1 in North Yorkshire is currently being upgraded to motorway in a very piecemeal fashion. This means that many of the remaining restaurants and garages have had to close as they will either me swallowed or cut-off by the new motorway. The result is a very important road with nowhere to stop.

Normally this problem would be addressed by new services opening up on the road, but this is the first major road to open since 1992 where the government no longer decide where to put new services, so they've got to wait for a developer to come along and get separate planning permission.

How bad is it?
It's 80 miles from Durham to Ferrybridge with two services in between: the new Wetherby and Scotch Corner. The actual length without services is 40 miles, but there have been rumours that Scotch Corner will need to be closed as part of the motorway upgrade.

Were there any plans to sort this out?
No, because there wasn't a problem to sort. Oaktree, Leeming Bar and Rainton all served motorists as well as countless smaller facilities along the road.

Are there any plans to sort it out?
Several plans have been put forward to serve the new A1(M): Kirby Hill, an expanded Leeming Bar, a new truckstop owned by the owners of Leeming Bar and a new site near Boroughbridge.

Wetherby opened in 2008, reducing the scale of the problem. In addition, the Morrisons store near J48 recently gained road signs as a temporary measure, despite it only serving as a 'local facility' and therefore not legally qualifying for motorway signs.

What should I do if there are no services?

If you know what you're doing and you really need to stop, then you may need to consider an unscheduled detour. Heston, for example, is four miles off the services-less M25.

If you are feeling tired and you need to stop, leave at the next junction and use your common sense to find a place where it would be safe to pull over. Along such routes you should be able to get away from the main road and find somewhere to pull over for a few minutes. You then may wish to find a small car park (pubs are good for this) or a lay-by to stop at. It's the same with petrol stations, and don't be afraid to ask the locals if you need a certain facility quick.

Unfortunately, none of the above is very useful if you're driving a lorry or coach. All you can do is use your best judgement and show your support whenever a new service area is considered.

The side of the motorway is a dangerous place. It is illegal to stop on the hard shoulder unless it is an absolute emergency.

Further Reading

  • CBRD - Opening Booklets - a collection of old booklets announcing the opening of several different roads. Read page 40 of the M25 one for information on planned services in the area.
  • Off the Motorway - another site giving visitors the chance to explore the local area.