Motorway Services Online

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Areas Without Services

Motorway services should be as close as possible 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).

As the result of a slapdash attitude to providing facilities, some notorious exceptions to that rule have formed in service area provision. Most of these have now been resolved, but this page examines them closer.

East Birmingham[edit]

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

View a map of the area

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

Why has it gone wrong?
Originally the only routes in to this region were the M5 and the M6, with the M42 cutting the corner between the two. Service areas were provided in each corner, ensuring every route was catered for.

Since then, the M40 (which had actually been planned for some time), M54, top end of the M42 and the M6 Toll have all been plugged in, creating a much more complicated network. As time has gone on, service area planning has become more of an afterthought.

How bad is it?
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 the signposted route is to use M42 north.

If it wasn't for a recent development 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. At the same time it increases 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?
A possible service area near Solihull was investigated as part of the original planning of the road and continues to be talked about to this day. 20 years after the M42 here opened, it gained a service area 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.

As of 2015, it is being discussed again, and more plans are being put forward.

West London[edit]

M25 traffic.
Heavy traffic on the M25, but no services.

View a map of the area

West London was 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.

The issue was first identified in the 1970s, with services proposed at Poyle, Reading and Clacket Lane. Problems with the existing services at the time meant little energy was put into building new ones, especially in this area where land value is a contentious subject. In fact, in semi-urban areas like this it was decided conserving the land was more important than building services.

How bad is it?
In 2009, it was 81 miles from Toddington on the M1 to the next services as you head south, the little Pease Pottage on the M23 - that was almost three times too far!

It has now been reduced to a measly 50 miles thanks to the opening of Cobham. 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 was 65 miles from Clacket Lane to South Mimms.

This is the most congested motorway in the UK, with travel times often being twice as long as they should be, so it needed 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 - Scratchwood 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. There were a whole host of reviews and plans drawn up.

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, and it all went downhill from there.

Services were also looked at in the Leatherhead area.

Has it been sorted yet?
Almost. Beaconsfield on the M40 opened its doors in 2010 and Cobham on the M25 opened in 2012, both having suffered many planning issues. The Highways Agency have said that even with them, the M25 still doesn't have enough services.

The possibility of a service area in the north-west corner of the M25 continues to be talked about to this day.


View a map of the area

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 in the West Midlands (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 if you look at the motorways in isolation.

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.

Has it been sorted yet?
Yes. Gloucester services has been opened by Westmorland. So we can close the book on this one.

North Yorkshire[edit]

Abandoned Little Chef.
A closed Little Chef at Rainton.

View a map of the area

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 only one service area in between: the new Wetherby, which is overloaded and often has long queues to get in the car park. Technically there is Leeming Bar and Scotch Corner rest areas, plus truckstops at Coneygarth and Barton Park, but these are all very small sites which don't qualify as a full service area and don't provide everything they ought to.

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.

The Morrisons store near J48 gained road signs as a temporary measure, despite it only serving as a 'local facility' and therefore not legally qualifying for motorway signs.

Are there any plans to sort it out?
Several plans have been put forward to serve the new A1(M), such as Kirby Hill and Baldersby Gate, but they face constant opposition from people such as the Mayor of Harrogate who commented "we're blighted by service stations".

Wetherby opened in 2008, reducing the scale of the problem.

What should I do if there are no services?[edit]

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.

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[edit]

  • 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.