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Unbuilt Services

The way motorway services are planned and provided has changed over the years. However you go about it, there will always be a number of proposals which are started but never finished, usually because a better option is found or a problem was encountered.

Some of the unbuilt plans can be described in one line; others will have had more to say about them but the documents have been lost or destroyed. However, quite a few of the half-built plans have become landmarks in their own right, and these are explored in more detail.

To allow us to fully document as many unfulfilled proposals as we can, we have broken them up in to three categories. These are our own classifications and not an official system.

Type 1: Suitable Site

A site visit to a field.
Type 1 services are just drawings on paper and the results of site visits to fields.

Until 1992, when England's Department for Transport or its predecessors were handed the confirmed route of a new motorway, they would start analysing it for possible sites of new services. Generally, they were looking for land which would be easy to purchase and build on, with no junctions for at least a mile either side, easy connections for the utilities and an emergency exit, and a nearby village where staff could be sourced from. This was harder than it sounded, as they would have to make site visits before work on the motorway had started, and imagine what the field would look like with a motorway running through the middle of it.

Building services at a junction was never ruled out, but for a long time it was considered a last resort, as in the early days of motorways there was a fear of the unknown about how a roundabout could handle both people looking for the exit and people looking for the services. Also, the land would have to be physically connected to the existing roadworks.

Type 1 ought really to be divided in to two halves. On some motorways, like the M11, they analysed the whole 50 mile motorway for suitable sites and came back with 33 possible services. We'll call that Type 1A.

On many projects they will be able to jump straight to Type 1B. This involves working out roughly where you want your services by dividing the road into even sections, and then only considering the suitable sites within a few miles of each of those nodes. Even though the M2 was planned in the 1950s, they used this strategy because the road only needed one service area and they decided they wanted it in the middle.

Every motorway in England planned before 1992 will have gone through this process, and it stands to reason there will be hundreds of different fields examined and ruled out. Where we know a little bit about the process, we have filed it under the services's page.

The biggest change in what was expected of a suitable site came in the 1980s, where expectations were downgraded just to get something built. This affected the M11 and the M42, in particular the latter had about four different services which were promoted above Type 1B and then sent back to be re-evaluated. The M25 also stands out for the number of studies which were required before the final plan was settled on.

Type 2: Confirmed Proposal

Motorway maintenance compound.
Most services in this category end up being half-built.

This is the category people find most interesting.

If a proposal has survived Type 1A and Type 1B, it becomes a confirmed part of the motorway project. To make it this far, it will have to be between 12 and 15 miles from any other services. Initially, confirmed proposals had their land compulsory purchased at the same time as the motorway, but this was causing delays to the motorway's construction so they started to pursue them separately. The effect of this is that you started to have some roads, like the M4 between London and Reading, opening before the services plans had been settled on.

Next, the Department for Transport has to invite interested companies to bid to run the new services. Knowing that the early motorways would initially be very quiet, the Department did not open up every site for tender, but instead held back every-other site and released them as part of an infill project only once they were needed. Since 1992, the Department for Transport has not been involved in planning new services, so any plans which hadn't been completed by then are unlikely to ever happen.

The other problem was that after an initial burst of excitement in the 1960s, companies then started to realise that motorway services were expensive to build and didn't make them a lot of money. It was embarrassing for the Department if they were to invest in a new site, pay for a lengthy tender process, and then receive either zero responses or a couple of appalling ones - both of which happened. To avoid this, they would hold back on the less lucrative sites until traffic levels improved.

Despite falling at the final hurdle, at most services of this Type you will be able to find evidence that something was planned: space for an exit on the motorway, a fence that reveals somebody had bought the land, or even a bridge to carry the customers. As time went on, the Department began to invest less until they were sure it was going ahead. In this section, we examine that evidence.

Most services in this list are Type 2, but this is a new section and there are currently a few others in there too.

Important note: This section of the site is currently being rewritten. All of the M1, M3, M4, M5, M6, M11, M18, M20, M23 and M25 details are all on separate pages.

Location:Date Planned:Operator:Maps:
M40 between J3 and J4
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
1967-1980sGoogle Maps
A1(M) around J56
Barton, Richmond, North Yorkshire
Google Maps
M12 west of M25
Havering-atte-Bower, Romford, Essex
1960s-1980sGoogle Maps
(also known as Heck)

2 photos
M62 between J34 and J35
Hensall, North Humberside
1972-1980Google Maps
M62 between J30 and J31
Methley, Leeds
Google Maps
(also known as Defford)
M64 east of the M5
Defford, Worcester
1970-1975Google Maps
(also known as Catherine-de-Barnes, Friday Lane)

1 photo
M42 around J4 and J5
Solihull, West Midlands
1970-2014Extra, Welcome Break, RoadchefGoogle Maps
A1(M) between J36 and J37
Sprotbrough, Doncaster, South Yorkshire
1960s, 1994Google Maps

Download list on Google Earth

Type 3B: Private Initiative

New Extra services.
A sign explaining land has been sold for a new service area.

Since the 1980s in England, and pretty much since the creation of motorways in the rest of the UK, private businesses have been allowed to submit their own proposals for new services. Exactly who submits the proposals can vary: it could be an enterprising landowner, a land developer or an operator.

The mysterious Type 3A applies to the early discussions held by operators and landowners. We rarely document these as at this stage they are often vague and optimistic.

Type 3B is when the proposal formally enters the planning system, or at least the developer consciously brings it into the public domain. Once here, all the plan needs to see it built is enough funding and the support of the planning system. Here, many fall.

Often, a proposal will be rejected and then come back in a different form. We file those under the completed service area's page. Of the remaining examples, some of the more interesting ones include:

  • Almondsbury (M4/M5): a private initiative site proposed before they were allowed
  • Harlow (M11): was interpreted as being slightly ridiculous
  • Longwick: looks like a Type 2, but the whole motorway is privately developed
  • Solihull (M42): various ongoing proposals in this area since the motorway opened

As the A1(M) is the only significant length of motorway to have been built in England since 1992, it is effectively an open goal for developers. Kirby Hill is the most famous rejected proposal, but Barton, Baldersby Gate, Knaresborough and Selby Fork are among others. As the A1(M) replaced an existing road, the owners of the existing services were particularly defensive about their market share, especially Fortes when they owned Little Chef.

The M40 has also been a magnet for developers, with Booker, Lewknor, Stokenchurch and Tetsworth all among the competing, rejected proposals.

An artists impression of a service station.
Type 3B plans exist on paper only.

Some more rejected or unfulfilled planning applications include:

There is no reason why a Type 2 unbuilt service area can't be picked up by a developer, however all Type 2 services had road safety as their priority, whereas developers are only looking for the most lucrative sites. A few old ideas which were reused include:

All A-road services proposals will come under Type 3, but some of the more high-profile examples include:

In 1997, the national press reported the Pakistani Welfare Association would be building a halal motorway service area near Birmingham. One report said it would be near Spaghetti Junction while another said it could be on the M5 or M6, so it may have just been speculative. No trading name was provided but the papers dubbed it "Balti Break".