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History of Chieveley services

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Chieveley Fresh Express.jpg
The old restaurant, seen from the atrium.

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Opened by Granada 1986
Re-branded Moto 2001

The M4 and the large roundabout at Chieveley opened in 1971. This involved diverting the A34 around Chieveley Riding School and the cottages on what used to be called Bird's Lane (now Oxford Road), and doing that divided a field into two. The field was already ruined, firstly by the new road and secondly because the remaining land had been used as a compound during the motorway construction. There were now a whole host of new opportunities.

At the time, the government was responsible for planning motorway service area locations. They had one at Membury, and wanted to build one near Theale, but planning issues meant progress was slow. As a result, many drivers, especially lorries, were leaving the motorway at Chieveley and looking for somewhere to stop. Meanwhile, with the A34 about to gain new bypasses such as at Donnington and Chieveley village, drivers there would be looking for places to stop too. Residents of Bird's Lane were being hassled by people asking for assistance, the field in question was being used illegally by food vans, and people in Newbury (which the A34 still ran through the middle of) were getting fed up of lorries parking up anywhere they could.

The need for a new facility was evident. The government's position was that they were working on new services for the M4, while issues with the A34 were a local issue for the local council to deal with.

Early Proposals

Full details: A34 Planning Applications

The first formal proposal for a service station was made in 1975 by a local developer, who presumably was the landowner whose field had been bisected. The paperwork explains that the new facility would be occupied by "Esso and others". This was on the southbound side and showed a petrol station, car park and a "two tier" catering building next to the road. Behind it was a lorry park, a breakdown yard and an overnight caravan park. The petrol station would have been - very roughly - where the main Chieveley building is today.

In this particular case there was no plan to build a northbound counterpart. There are two key things to remember about that: firstly, this was supposed to be a solution to the problems with the A34, not a solution to the government's problems with the M4. Secondly, at this stage the A34 had frequent gaps in its central reservation, and people could easily turn around if they needed to head back the other way.

The plan was described as "premature" because a comprehensive review of facilities on the A34 was due, and some of the local bypasses hadn't yet closed. In addition, this part of the A34 was supposed to be fast and rural. The decision was appealed and would be taken to a public inquiry.

The second known drawing of Chieveley was from the same developer, with Esso name-checked again. It was dated 1976 and involved both sides of the road. The northbound side had a Little Chef, a car park and a petrol station. These would be accessed from Bird's Lane, as with all the northbound proposals. The southbound side had a combined Little Chef and transport café, a car park, lorry park, caravan park, a petrol station, and a motel with its own restaurant and conference suite. The Little Chef and petrol station were positioned close to the road while the other facilities were further back.

The tie-in with Little Chef from an independent developer was especially unusual. It suggests the two were in advanced talks, and that Little Chef were among the mysterious "others" alluded to in the paperwork. The plan was rejected for the same reasons, but the district council added that the proposal had only consisted of a petrol station and toilets, it was likely to have been "considered favourably". As it stood, they called it "excessive", as it duplicated what was already available in Newbury.

Alternative Option

Potholed lorry park.
The lorry park is much larger than a service area of this size would normally get.

The third, known, official plan is dated 1977. It again comes from the landowner and, perhaps inspired by the advice from Newbury District Council, this one shows a slight change in thought process. It had a petrol station and small car park on either side of the road. This would have left a lot of space on the larger southbound side, so the plan also gave it a large lorry park with a hostel, and a large caravan park and picnic area.

A variation of that option was produced a month later, which consisted of the petrol stations only, with plenty of space left empty on the southbound side for a mysterious "future development".

When asked who would be providing the facilities, the developer simply said, "not decided". One district councillor was very supportive of the proposal, explaining that more HGV parking was desperately needed in the area and "it would be very stupid to turn him down". However the Department of the Environment rejected the first option, saying that it would compromise the flow of the new A34. As a testament to how difficult working with planning authorities can be, the second option, which was exactly what Newbury District Council had previously said would be viewed "favourably", was rejected because they wanted to keep this area rural and were still waiting for advice on what facilities the A34 needed.

In addition, we understand that the Department of the Environment were unhappy that the shape of the land meant the southbound service area was going to have to be much bigger than the northbound service area. They thought this was illogical, and could lead to better facilities (and therefore more traffic) on the bigger side.

New Leasing Company

In 1978, a new name came to attention. The landowner leased the field to a new company which he owned, named 'Newbury Interchange Limited'. This curiously-named company wanted to close the deal on the situation, and a few years later they revealed that they had been in detailed talks with three potential operators, and that they would be making their preference known soon.

Evidence of progress can be seen in the next plan. Dated 1981, it has Trusthouse Forte's name written not just deep within the documentation, but proudly written across the top of the map. The detailed plan showed two sites linked by a pedestrian footbridge - the only time we've ever seen one proposed at Chieveley. The northbound side had a Little Chef and shop, as well as a car park, lorry park and petrol station. The southbound side had a Julie's Pantry and shop, a car park, coach park, a bigger lorry park and a picnic area.

The southbound building was roughly where the petrol station is today, while the northbound side continued to make use of the Bird's Lane turning. All of the plans submitted involved upgrading the Bird's Lane turning, but this one seemed to be particularly keen to ensure people travelling south had the option to turn right into the Little Chef, which would be a cause of concern from the Department of Transport who were starting a slow policy of removing all those right turns.

To the best of our knowledge, this plan was never formally submitted.

Granada Plan

"Newbury District Council became impatient to see some action."
Council Director, 1985

The breakthrough came in 1985. Granada submitted a planning application, and it was approved! It was only an outline application, and it covered the eastern side of the site only, which had previously been known as the southbound services. An earlier drawing (1984) suggested the northbound side could have a very small petrol station, but it was now described as "phase 2" and left empty for future use.

There had been an issue with lorry parking. Newbury District Council wanted a large lorry park to solve their issues once and for all, and insisted it was twice as large as what Granada were hoping to make it.

It was also the first time the idea of a link road from the services back to the roundabout had been considered. To help resolve the lorry parking issue, Newbury District Council suggested the Department of Transport to allow a new roundabout on the A34, which would allow traffic from the M4 to use the services. The DoT said no, and that if right turns were to be permitted, it would have to be via a new flyover. Granada said they wouldn't be prepared to fund that, but were eventually convinced to purchase a section of land to build the new link road. This was possible because the motorway slip road already had a junction with the works unit.

"This scheme generally to a much higher standard than other service areas."
Berkshire County Council Landscape Consultant, 1986

After receiving a nod of approval, Granada agreed to lease the land from Newbury Interchange Limited, and finalised their plans. Granada placed a sign in both the north and the southbound fields announcing that facilities would be open in Summer 1986.

The amenity building was a pyramid shape with a glass dome to bring light into the centre of the building. As you walked through the entrance, there was a Burger Express on the left, and a Granada Shop on the right. Behind these was the main mall, with a game arcade and kiosk on the left, and toilets on the right. The Country Kitchen Restaurant was at the back, and initially it was separated from the atrium by a wall and doors. Fuel was provided by Mobil.

Parking for stays over two hours was charged at £2 for cars, £3.50 for caravans and £5 for lorries. A £25 parking fine was charged by the patrol officer for those who parked all day without paying.

Drawings of some of the signs welcomed customers to "Granada Newbury". Some posters would later call it 'Newbury (Chieveley)'. It's not clear whether the Newbury name ever was used publicly.

Northbound Rivals

If developments seem strange and confused so far, it was about to get a whole lot worse.

A director at Newbury District Council revealed that a few years previous, he became aware that Granada had taken the position that building on both sides of the A34 at Chieveley was "not viable". Their explanation was that expanding the lorry park had pushed the cost up from £2 million to £5 million, an incredible increase, unless the figure includes the cost of acquiring the land for the link road.

This would better explain the conversations with the Department of Transport mentioned above: if Granada were only interested in building the southbound services, a new roundabout would allow A34 traffic on both sides to use it, and naturally the DoT would have preferred a flyover.

"The viability of the service area is extremely sensitive."
Granada's solicitor, 1985

In June 1985, CTI Developments submitted their own plan to build a petrol station, hotel and Happy Eater on the northbound side of the services. There were also rumours that Trusthouse Forte would be submitting another plan to build a restaurant, hotel and petrol station on the same piece of land. A few weeks later, Granada made a formal planning permission to build a petrol station on the northbound side of the A34 opposite Chieveley. Their plan had no car parking, and used only a small corner of the field. They added that they were considering building a bridge between the two sides.

Granada's planning application was accompanied by several letters. Granada weren't happy that their new development at Chieveley could have been about to be compromised by one of their arch nemeses. They argued that the possibility of having competition next door was giving them second thoughts about Chieveley - potentially causing Newbury District Council to lose the lorry park they had been fighting for.

The Forte plan was quickly rejected because it was too constrained, while the Granada and CTI plans would have been approved if they had upgraded the exit for Bird's Lane, which would have been the entrance to the developments.

The question is were Granada genuinely interested in building the second Chieveley, or did they just want to be seen to be defending their interests? Their planning application was submitted very quickly, suggesting they had already been working on it. However, it was a remarkable turn around from their previous position that one expensive service area would be enough, and their correspondence reveals that they were riled by the potential competition.

The position of the built half of Chieveley did present a weakness, with one survey finding that 7.9% of A34 southbound drivers were stopping there, while only 4.3% of northbound drivers were willing to turn around at the roundabout and stop there.

By total coincidence, in 1989 Stakis Hotels agreed to improve the Bird's Lane junction by closing the right turn. They would need to apply again, but it's reasonable to assume that Granada's plan would now get a green light. Would they go for it? It turns out it didn't matter, because of what happened next.

Junction Improvement

The government white paper of 1989 included plans to upgrade the A34 at Newbury. By 1992 at the latest, we know that this plan involved diverting the A34 to the west of the Chieveley Roundabout. All of the land which the potential northbound services would have been built on was now going to be occupied by a new roundabout. A small part of the service area and hotel car parks would be taken too.

For the most part, the original plan was the same as what was eventually built. The southbound exit into the services would have led down to one of the roundabouts, while a new road would run from there to the service area car park. Access to Chieveley services from the northbound side would be made via an underpass, which meant the Department of Transport would finally be getting the flyover they had been asking for.

Work on the new junction was completed in 2004. Initially traffic leaving the service area to head back to the M4 or Chieveley northbound had the option of using either the old link road or the new underpass. The old link road was causing issues for traffic leaving the M4, so it was eventually closed and turned into additional lorry parking. The works unit exit was moved at the same time.

Signage Confusion

"This proposal is for a trunk road service area on the A34 [...] its prime purpose is to serve traffic on the trunk road itself."
Newbury District Council, 1985

The first plans for Chieveley made it very clear that it was a plan for an A-road service area on the A34. The fact that it was next to the M4, which desperately needed another service area, was a mere coincidence. When it opened, some signs were placed on the M4, as a temporary measure until the M4 had more services. This constitutes a stealth service area, as motorway services needed formal approval at the time and Chieveley didn't have it but managed to get signs anyway. It's not clear if Granada had been hoping this rule would be broken from the moment they showed an interest in the project.

When the M4 gained new services at Reading, most of Chieveley's signs were taken down. Official notes stated that "Reading has replaced Chieveley". When that situation was next reviewed, the Highways Agency argued that the roundabout was too congested and couldn't handle any extra traffic. When the roundabout was improved, new signs were placed on the M4 westbound.

There are still only minimal signs on the M4 eastbound, which contain technical errors. One reason for this may be that the following service area is also owned by Moto, so customers will end up visiting the same operator anyway.

A 2001 study found that just 2-3% of traffic on the M4 was turning off for Chieveley. The limited signage would have influenced this extremely low figure.

Changes

Chieveley 2007.
The front of Chieveley in 2007, before the eateries were added.

The Travelodge at Chieveley, and the long stay car park behind it, were built on a separate field which was left out in the original planning permission. This can be seen in the way they seem to be totally detached from the rest of the complex. This motel started as a plan for a Granada Lodge in 1986, but didn't open until some time later.

In the early 1990s there was a small extension to the front of the building, creating some more seating and a larger shop. The business centre became a second games arcade. The restaurant gained a wider entrance and became Fresh Express, later joined by Caffe Ritazza.

The petrol station changed to BP branding in 2000. It is very old by their standards. In 1997 there was a plan to build a new petrol station where the lorry park is. Artists' impressions showed the new petrol station being covered in Granada branding (as opposed to Mobil or BP - a very 1970s concept), and advertising Pizza Hut, Burger King, La Brioche Doree, Kenco, Dunkin' Donuts, Blimpie and Fresh Express. It's not thought Granada ever built a petrol station like this.

In 2000, Granada wanted to continue to turn their services into small shopping centres. At Chieveley, their plan was to build a new entrance to the right of the existing one, which would then take visitors past five shops before arriving in the restaurant area. This wasn't built.

In 2004 one additional retail unit was built on the picnic area by the side of the service area. This became a Ladbrokes. A Greggs was built next door in 2013. The Ladbrokes closed in summer 2019.

An internal rearrangement later saw the Burger King move into the newer games arcade, with the old Burger King becoming M&S Simply Food. A new Costa stand was added inside the restaurant, and Costa and West Cornwall Pasty Co were provided in kiosks at the front of the building. The Fresh Express and Caffe Ritazza pairing in the restaurant became EDC and Costa.

On 23 March 2015, the restaurant was totally refurbished to become a trial for the brand new Arlo's. It replaced the servery layout with a much smaller counter in the middle of the seating area, leaving more space for coffee customers. This brand was later transferred to other Moto services.

Other Developments

In 1986, Newbury Interchange Limited wanted to erect a tall sculpture by the link road, which they called "The Chieveley Flyer". No reason was given for its significance, but it wasn't built.

Stakis Hotel purchased the land formally used by Chieveley Riding School. Their development became the Hilton Hotel in 2000. At the time it had the Bird's Lane exit to itself, but now it shares the underpass with the main Chieveley services. As a result, signs need to differentiate between the Hilton and the service area hotel, and use the generic term "Hotels" when referring to them both.

In 1987, Newbury Interchange Limited wanted to build an upmarket hotel to the south of the service area. Access would have been provided from a new roundabout on the link road. It's not clear if it would have become a Granada Hotel, or an unrelated brand.

One of the fields adjoining the service area, which had a gate joining on to the link road, was turned into quarry. This was one of the factors in the direct exit to the M4 being closed.

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