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History of Cherwell Valley services

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Inside the original building, in 2006.

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Two services have built beside Stoke Lyne Brook, following some emergency toilet facilities which had been provided by the Department for Transport. Six possible sites were looked at before the services were built. All evidence of the original building is gone, but remains documented here.

Location

Traffic queueing by the entrance to the services.

Cherwell Valley is a large service area and for years was the first 'proper' one for traffic coming from the South Coast on the A34. Between the opening of the M40 in 1990 and the opening of the services in 1994, it was possible to drive from Dover to Telford (239 motorway miles) without passing any services, and as a result, when it did open, it became the busiest service area in Europe.

Its biggest flaw is the junction it's on, which was remodelled following the upgrade of the A43 in 2002. The new junction had five single-lane sliproads, four major exits and three tight roundabouts. One particular roundabout conflicted traffic movements and caused queues even outside rush hour. Even if you don't need a break when you saw signs for the services, you did when you got there. Moto tried to claim compensation for lost custom due to the upgrade, but didn't win.

If the services weren't there, rebuilding the junction would have been much easier. A lightweight project was completed in 2015, which caused further inconvenience to service station users with its frequent sliproad closures.

In 2016 Moto erected signs on the exit to the services giving journey times to "the Highways Agency's traffic signals", perhaps trying to rebound complaints they've received.

Prior to the construction of the M40 starting, an analysis of services concluded that one was needed "near Gaydon or Banbury". As the M40 neared completion, this changed to vague references to a service area at Ardley, implying the services were expected to go to tender like any other.

Original Building

The original Cherwell Valley was a bit of a landmark design, as it was one of the first services to take advantage of its backdrop to create a more relaxing design. It was a low-level building draped in trees and designed to resemble a country house, and the entrance to the car park still creates the impression of a driveway today. This effect didn't necessarily last: compared to bigger, brighter buildings which were later built it looked cramped and extensions in the 1990s made the front of Cherwell Valley look like any supermarket from the time, but even so many services took inspiration from it.

The services were considered for six years, It opened on 31 March 1994 costing £20m and taking up 56 acres of land, following a six-year planning process.

Inside, the services had a Burger King in the right-hand corner, a large dining area overlooking the river straight ahead, a shop on the left and a corridor leading to the toilets and an amusement arcade at the back. A Little Chef was later built in the corner, next to Burger King.

A large 1990s telephone box.

In 1999, Granada proposed extending the restaurant area to include a formal coffee lounge over the area surrounding the children's play area, with a new, larger play area being built behind the building. The plans would have included a reception, 8 private rooms, 12 personal workstations and a terrace with picnic tables stretching over the area between the services and the motel. There would have also been a "BT Communications Room", which was eventually built as a separate building.

In 2000 a new entrance was creating to the left of the original, creating some additional shopping units (one of which was Thorntons), workspaces and a new entrance lobby with a coffee shop inside it. This was supposed to house 'Granada 2 Go', an express food store - the idea may have been shortlived or dropped in favour of Upper Crust or Caffe Ritazza. A new games arcade was placed in the old entrance.

In later years, the restaurant was branded 'Moto Restaurant' despite it having a standard Fresh Express/EDC offer. The Little Chef became a Costa, and retail units were combined to create WHSmith and one of the motorway network's first M&S Simply Food stores. A Ladbrokes was at the back.

There was also a plant room built between the motel and the services which was originally a tourist information centre. There were plans to connect this to the main building but this didn't happen.

The M&S and Travelodge were later extended. A pathway between the services and motel pointed the way to a walk around Stoke Lyne Brook.

Fire

The building after the fire.

On 15 April 2010 at 1pm there was a fire in one of Moto's store rooms which took hold of the roof and eventually destroyed the whole amenity building, narrowly missing the adjacent Travelodge. It was started by an electrical fault within an air-conditioning unit. Around 120 firefighters tackled the blaze which lasted until 5pm and resulted in delays on the M40 and a closure of the A43.

On 23 April 2010 a new marquee-style building opened at the western end of the car park as a temporary measure until better facilities could be set up. It could hold 100 people, served drinks and a limited hot food menu.

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The temporary amenity building.

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Some better facilities that could house all the expected features opened on 15 July 2010 at the south-eastern end of the car park and were used until the permanent building was ready. This had the building raised on scaffolding. Ladbrokes wasn't included in the temporary building, and didn't return at all.

Heart Oxfordshire have some photos of the fire.

The building was demolished throughout May 2010.

Replacement

On 1 July 2010 a planning application was made for the final amenity building, with Moto claiming design work had started hours after the fire.

It was almost identical to Wetherby, with the same environmental credentials, but had designed to accommodate busier peak periods with more units. All the brands (including Thorntons, which was unique to the services) were set to be included in the new building, but this didn't materialise: a meeting centre opened in place of Thorntons and Ladbrokes opened as Upper Crust.

The Travelodge closed at the same time as the fire. Moto were considering arranging a deal to sell the hotel to Starboard Hotels, which would have incurred a rebrand to Days Inn, but the plans were dropped and it reopened on 26 May 2011 as a Travelodge.

The new building opened on 30 June 2011, shortly before which it was announced that Domino's Pizza would be included. This plan didn't happen and was dropped.

As would be expected from a brand new amenity building, it has no scars from any extensions being built, creating an unmodified rectangle shape that makes it look slightly detracted from its surroundings. Trees around the entrance have been replaced by a patio area. The new building is much more stylish, but with a large, airy dining area by the entrance facing the car park and the kitchen hiding the views over the meadow, it does look like it is a building design copied from elsewhere.

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