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Prior Report

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Motoross Leicester Forest East restaurant in the 1970s
By the 1970s, motorway services had earned an extremely poor reputation.

A lengthy study during the 1970s aimed to establish why services were providing such poor service, and why the established operators weren't interested in building new services. It was a detailed investigation which saw interviews with the public and all the operators (who only agreed to be involved if the criticisms would be levied anonymously). Published in 1978 by the Committee of Inquiry into Motorway Service Areas, it was headed by Peter Prior and known as the Prior Report.

Amongst many complaints, the investigation was prompted by the criticisms from Egon Ronay and the 1960s architecture review.

It was one of the biggest changes of direction in terms of service station policy, but it also found that not all the criticisms were justified: prices weren't unduly expensive and when they were it was due to excessive government tax and regulation; and profits were typically around 2%. Continental service stations weren't as favourable when compared like-for-like. Not every recommendation was introduced, but the suggestions were:

  • Services no longer needed to provide a recovery service for vehicles broken down on the motorway. It recommended a national breakdown unit.
  • Machine only catering now allowed.
  • Regulation moved away from the Department of Transport and to the MSA Board, instead of a quango.
  • 100-year contracts introduced; most of the services had their land sold to the operator after lengthy negotiations.
  • Rent rebates for operators who exceed quality targets.
  • Allowed selling one brand of fuel.
  • Fuel prices added to increase competition signs, in exchange for operator names being added too.
  • Rent changed to profit-based, not turnover.
  • Banks and foreign exchange permitted.
  • Permitted parking charges.
  • Introduction of a star-rating system for services (not introduced).
  • Hotels permitted at services (within reason).
  • Call for more government subsidies (not introduced).
  • Adjacency rule lifted.
  • Recommended more truckstops (not really introduced).
  • Controversial new service station proposals were considered and it was agreed green belt land was worth protecting in some areas.

The Daily Mail reported the announcement by stating that alcohol would be introduced to restaurants, but it wasn't.

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