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History of Birchanger Green services

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The refurbished food court.

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The M11 was originally set to have services at Chigwell and Newport. With low traffic levels and frequently changing plans for the surrounding motorway network, it was difficult to raise enough interest for them. Birchanger Green was the end result.

Planning

Services at Birchanger (sometimes called Bishop's Stortford) were first proposed in 1980, looking at all corners of the junction. The Department for Transport hoped that choosing a busy junction in the middle of the motorway would mean they receive better quality bids to run the services, which is where Chigwell failed.

Despite Birchanger being chosen as the easy option, a long battle followed. Government policy was to compensate landowners for the value of land they were taking; in this case the site of Birchanger was being used as a field. However, the landowner had received an enquiry from Tesco about building a hypermarket there, so felt he should paid what Tesco would have paid.

Meanwhile, in the north-east corner, BAA had their eyes on the land as part of their Stansted Airport expansion. The services would have been compatible with the airport plans; indeed BAA were interested in running the services themselves, but the Department for Transport at the time did not think the roundabout could handle an expanded airport and a service area.

The A1250 was diverted to go around the proposed site and Trusthouse Forte won a contract to build the services in 1986. Later that year, Mobil had an alternative plan to build the services refused. Planning permission for Forte hit further hiccups until the services opened in 1995.

During planning, the services were always called Birchanger. The 'Green' suffix was a common trick in the 1990s, to try to make services sound more homely.

This is still the only services on the M11, despite plans at Duxford. The site is 28 acres.

Design

The building is shaped as a triangle, with an airy corridor along one side and a small seating area taking up the rest of the space. The large glass front is typical of services of this age.

The food and shops appear in almost no order as units have moved around, but a large Waitrose (partly a former Red Hen) unit currently flanks the main corridor.

Although the interior of the services has been refurbished several times, the entrance doors are still in original Welcome Break blue.

Traffic Problems

Throughout the late '90s Birchanger Green's junction was heavily congested until major improvement works saw a new junction, J8a, constructed within the existing one to get traffic in and out of Stansted Airport much quicker. It is still a complicated junction, particularly for southbound traffic.

In 2010, Welcome Break complained that the new layout made it difficult for traffic to exit the services, creating long queues in the process, and offered to pay to have the majority of services traffic directed to the A120, where it could then join the roundabout with the M11. Their plans were rejected.

The problems with this junction makes it odd that the Department for Transport endorsed building services here in the 1980s. They must not have foreseen the growth of Stansted.

Brand Offer

Birchanger building construction.
The new hotel under construction.

When it opened it had a Cafe Primo, which was the motorway network's first coffee bar. With palm trees and marble tables, it claimed to be an imitation of an Italian coffee bar. It also had a Little Chef, Julie's Express, KFC, La Baguette, and an unbranded fish and chip shop all held together next to The Granary under the name 'Granary Food Court'. For Welcome Break, this was a chance to showcase themselves as offering the best choice on the motorway at the time.

During 2006 a Sainsbury's store was trialled here, but it was removed as it only had a licence for 6 months and hadn't been much of a success. Before opening the store, Welcome Break had to do a lot of negotiating with the Highways Agency who were concerned that the store would lead to local people using the services, making it a destination in its own right. Welcome Break kept using Moto's connection with M&S as a reason for them to open up the store.

The motel at Birchanger was cheaper than Stansted's on-site one, and for that reason it was endorsed by several travel advice websites. A 77-bedroom "Days Hotel" was recently added alongside the existing 60-bedroom one as part of a £3m development. It was later re-branded to Ramada.

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