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Unbuilt Services On The M40

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For a list of current service areas on the M40, see Services on the M40.

The M40 is a product of two eras. There is the 1970s road broadly between London and Oxford, and the 1991 road between Oxford and Birmingham.

The difference between the two - other than 20 years and two totally different political attitude - was that when the M40 only ran to Oxford it was more of a commuter motorway, isolated from any other motorways while providing relief for High Wycombe and the villages along the A40.

The Oxford Road

The road between London and Oxford (actually just from Uxbridge to Wheatley) had one desginated service area, Abbey Barns. It is named after Abbey Barn Farm.

Positioned between J3 and J4, Abbey Barns had four ghost slips provided as part of the original construction of the road, which was built in 1969. The land was not purchased.

In 1973 the site was opened to bids for an operator to build it, but no replies were received. The contract would have allowed it to be developed as one site or two, and the Ministry expected at least £700,000 to be invested in it. A footbridge would have been provided, as would a connection to the local road network.

At 24 acres the site is quite small, even by the standards at the time.

That lack of interest was enough to finish off the project for good. Government policy was later updated to state that short motorways didn't need service areas, and planners "weren't sure" if the M40 even needed one. Instead two large lay-bys with toilets and payphones were built on the A40 Wheatley Bypass, which would act as the first place to stop for drivers leaving the motorway.

Unusually, the ghost slips here have not been maintained, and are now in an extremely poor state of repair.

Abbey Barns Again

After the plan to use Abbey Barns was postponed, further environmental concerns were raised which made building a service area here more unlikely. Additionally, it's understood that changes at the local authority in 1974 caused them to become opposed to the development.

Shell attempted to buy the land at Abbey Barns and win planning permission privately, which did not work. BP later tried the same.

Documents from the 1970s make a few references to a "High Wycombe services" opening in 1980, but noted that no exact location had been chosen at the time. One particular document name-checks Park Lane, which takes us to a field near Booker (west of J4), which we will revisit later.

M40 Extension

The M40 between Oxford and Birmingham was one of the last major motorways in the UK. As a result, the planning process was much more contentious than when the early motorways were being drawn in the 1960s.

Of interest to us is the battle between counties over where the service stations would be. Oxfordshire County Council insisted that there should only be one motorway service area in Oxfordshire, and that M40 J10 would be the best place for it.

The Department of Transport said they were looking at "Chesterton and Gaydon" - roughly near M40 J9 and M40 J12. They therefore agreed with Oxfordshire's suggestion of J10, and in July 1986 the DoT put the 'M40 Policy' in writing.

The "near Gaydon" site became Barn Hill, which would open as Warwick. Warwick's location was chosen because of its proximity to sites planned along the M42.

When the M40 opened in 1991, neither of these sites were ready, so emergency toilet facilities were provided at several junctions along the way. Famously, this formed the longest motorway in Britain without any service areas, forming part of a 230-mile route between Folkestone and Telford that had nowhere to stop. This issue would be raised frequently in the media.

The Third Amigo

M40 through Chilterns.
The site chosen for Tetsworth services.

While there was going to be a whole new section of motorway with new service areas, the issues on the original road remained unresolved.

Following informal advice from Wycombe District Council, in 1986 the Department of Transport formally announced that they were going to be building Stokenchurch services at M40 J5. When the plan became public knowledge, many residents objected, prompting Wycombe District Council to announce their opposition and the local MP to launch a campaign against it.

In 1987 the Department of Transport commissioned a study to examine 15 other possible sites on the M40.

As a result of that study, 1989 the Department of Transport confirmed their intention to build Tetsworth services, between J6 and J7. It was chosen because of its "pleasant setting", and minimal impact on the community.

615 car parking spaces would have been provided on each side of the motorway, plus 125 HGV spaces, 33 coach spaces and 33 caravan spaces. It was described in the press as "Britain's biggest service station". Some of those spaces would be covered up as they weren't expected to be needed until 2008.

A public inquiry was held regarding Tetsworth in 1990, which ultimately led to planning permission being refused in 1991. Oxfordshire County Council had shared their "dismay" at the scheme. The parish council were especially opposed to the idea, and concerned that the rear access would be used by too many vehicles.

The ill feeling at Tetsworth was partly down to its timing. The very day before the Department of Transport formally announced their intention to build a motorway service area here, the plan to build Stone Bassett new town on an adjacent field was rejected following an objection from the Department of Transport. Residents had moved from one battle to another, and accused the Department of Transport of being "underhand" by concealing their own plans for this area.

After this the Department of Transport washed their hands of situation completely. In 1992, the government officially removed responsibility for planning new service areas from the DoT to the private sector. The DoT's failure to provide new service areas on the M40 was the main reason given, with the government arguing that the DoT were spending too much time and money dealing with planning issues.

Warwick and Cherwell Valley still weren't built, but the documents had been signed with Mobil and Esso so they would be going ahead as planned. One press release listed unfinished DoT projects that the private sector were encouraged to pick up, and it included a vague entry titled "M40 South". In truth, with Tetsworth rejected, there was no progress here at all and the private sector would be starting afresh.

In one respect that plan worked. A large number of planning requests for new service areas on the M40 were submitted, which led to a public inquiry in 1996. Once again Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire were arguing over who should have the indignity of having a service station in their county.

The planning inquiry ruled in favour of building Oxford, precisely because it would leave space for a fourth service area to be built.

Fourth Arrival

The 1996 public inquiry had deliberately left a large gap at the bottom of the M40. Two rival planning applications were submitted to address it: Burtley Wood and Hedgerley. These were considered alongside a number of planning applications on the M25 in the 2002 public inquiry.

This concluded that Burtley Wood should be built, which opened as Beaconsfield.

Private Proposals

Booker M40 subway.
The tunnel under the M40 which would have been incorporated into the Booker plans.

Since 1992, developers have been solely responsible for coming up with their own proposals for new motorway services. This led to an increase in proposals, but they are normally clustered around the same area and most are quickly ruled out.

Some of the new motorway services once planned for the M40 we have uncovered include:

Place Location Proposed Resolved Outcome Notes
Tetsworth J6-7 1971 1971 Refused. Planned by Shell and BP. Not related to later DoT plans, and went against DoE policy at the time.
Longbridge J15 (south side) 1981 1987 Refused. Planned by Esso.
Gaydon J12 (south side) 1986 1995 Refused. Planned by Blue Boar. Refused because the DoT's Barn Hill was a better site. In 1995, a report in The Guardian claimed that nine different developers were proposing services in the vicinity of M40 J11 and J12, but this may have been inaccurate.
Booker J4-5 (Park Lane) 1987 1996 Refused. Planned by Mobil separate to DoT plans. Utilised existing subway. Used in 1991 Tetsworth public inquiry. Taken to 1996 public inquiry. Refused because it's too close to J4 and too far from Cherwell Valley.
Abbey Barns J4-5 1988 1989 Refused. Planned by BP. Refused because it went against the DoT's 'M40 Policy'. DoT had previously ruled out building here.
Stokenchurch (Hill Farm) J5A (north side) 1992 1996 Refused. Planned by Shell. Involved construction of new J5, with new link road, and roundabout serving service area. Taken to 1996 public inquiry.
Waterstock J8A (north-east corner) 1993 1996 Refused. Planned by Wyatt Bros. Taken to 1996 public inquiry. Wyatt were keen to point out what they had proposed was "not to create a motorway service area in the familiar sense", an arty phrase that caused confusion, so they then had to clarify that what they had proposed was in fact a typical service area.
Oxford (Wheatley) J8A (south-west corner) 1993 1998 Built. Planned by Welcome Break. Taken to 1996 public inquiry. Survived company's Granada takeover. Involved building new slip roads.
Lewknor J6 (east side) 1994 1996 Refused. Planned by Extra and Texaco. Three locations were submitted, including west of the junction with new slip roads, and north-east of the junction with a new roundabout. Taken to 1996 public inquiry.
Tetsworth J6-7 (Manor Road) 1994 1996 Refused. Planned by Margram and Lawlor Land Plc in exact place that DoT had been refused, albeit taking up less land. Taken to 1996 public inquiry.
Hedgerley (Mount Hill) J1-2 (Hedgerley Lane) 1994 2005 Refused. Planned by Hallam Land Management, Oakstead Developments Ltd and Margram. Initially withdrawn because of confusion over M40 widening works. Oakstead plan was westbound only. Hallam plan was westbound only, with a flyover and looped slip roads. Taken to 2002 public inquiry. Refused because Burtley Wood was less environmentally damaging.
Beaconsfield (Burtley Wood) J2 (south-east corner) 1994 2009 Built. Taken to 2002 public inquiry, where it was declared to be less damaging than Hedgerley.
Banbury J11 (north-east corner) 2016 2018 Refused. Planned by Euro Garages. Was a combined employment area and service station. Not clear if they would have applied for signs on the M40. Described as a "monstrosity" by the District Council; opposed by the County Council. Eventually resubmitted as an employment area only.

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