History of Fleet services
The County Surveyors Of Hampshire's joint report suggested the M3 had services at Andwell, Windlesham and Shepperton. Windlesham is about nine miles east of here.
A review was requested after concerns were raised that the suggested services were too close together, and that review concluded Fleet should be a reserve site built between two services.
The Forestry Commission were firmly opposed to a service area here, with the Ministry of Transport trying to argue that the woodland lost would be minimal compared to what was available. The site of the services was advertised as being 39.5 acres.
It was one of the first services to go for a more discreet building design, with a tightening budget and environmental concerns not allowing for the more striking designs that had been used so far and instead offering something with a more rural theme. It is set very low compared to other services from the time.
When it opened in 1973, its simple and spacious layout was praised for being the antidote to the overcrowded and unpleasant services which had opened so far. It was one of the last services to open with a Grill & Griddle, with blue plastic seats and neatly-laid tables and Scandinavian-style chip-wood ceiling. The café had a décor of green and mauve, with large windows and a high-pitched ceiling creating a spacious environment.
The footbridge at Fleet was built with this section of motorway, but the rest of the services weren't built for a few years, so for a while we were left with a bridge connecting two sides of wasteland. Ghost slips were built on the motorway to allow for easy construction. When it was built, neither building was connected to the bridge until the late 1980s.
The hotel was first applied for in 1974, but didn't materialise until the late '80s. Also in 1974, plans were put forward to but a canopy over the forecourt and extend the main building.
A government service station critic wrote highly about Fleet, his favourite services, in 1975, saying: "a pleasant and tranquil dignified sort of place where people rarely have to be herded like cattle and one to which you could take a planning committee to show them that a service area need not be brash and gaudy and garish, there are already signs that it may not stay this way".
In 1977 Egon Ronay said he found the building design created a pleasant atmosphere, but it was ruined by very slow service with long queues.
The BBC Domesday website suggests that in 1986, 60% of the services's trade happened on the westbound side.
In the early 1990s, Sweet Delights and Shirt Factor were removed.
In 1995 Welcome Break began to trial a McDonald's at Fleet northbound, and at Woodall. It operates under a long-term lease and occupies the core of the northbound building. Following its success, Welcome Break planned to introduce McDonald's nationwide, but were stopped because they were bought by Granada who already had a deal with Burger King.
In 2004, Good Housekeeping rated the services as one star, complaining of its "dirty car park", "old buildings" and "terrible" food.
In 1998, the southbound services were extended to move La Brioche Doree from The Granary to a new area to the right of the entrance. The shop was on the left, in an earlier extension. Ahead was the Game Zone and to the right were the toilets and Little Chef. Straight ahead was The Granary, with KFC and Julie's Pantry at the back, in another extended area. The female toilets were on the far left. A Café Kenco would have been offered around this time.
The Little Chef became a Red Hen and Julie's became Burger King. In 2002, the southbound services underwent another refurbishment, to create Welcome Break's flagship dining area. Under this, The Granary became Food Connection, and the Red Hen was closed and sealed off with the Game Zone gambling area moved to block it. A second video game area was created on the far left, while the old Game Zone became part of the main passageway. La Brioche Doree was supposed to become a coffee shop named Fastlane, but actually became Coffee Express.
Some time after this, things were moved around again. The gents toilets were moved next to the ladies, The Red Hen became a Primo Lounge and the shop became WHSmith. Next, the Primo Lounge became a large Starbucks, and the old coffee shop became a Waitrose.
Until 2001 there was a workshop still in use next to the southbound forecourt. On each side of the road, coach parking has been turned into overflow car parking.
Fleet was one of the first services to try out Welcome Break's new look in 2006, which saw the front of the building (beginning to look tired; painted grey/orange and draped with brand names) covered with a picture of a forest. It then saw two refurbishments around 2014, painting it black and then cream, building new porches at the front, and replacing the buffet restaurant with fast food franchises. This created a large food court on the southbound side.
A Starbucks drive thru opened here on the northbound side on 31 July 2012 - a first for a motorway service station. The new Starbucks utilised a formerly disused forecourt building. The Starbucks was opened 24hrs, which was novel at the time.
On the night of 14 December 2016, the southbound services were severely damaged by a large fire, which started in a faulty coffee machine by the KFC unit and spread to the majority of the building, leaving only the new entrance. UKNIP has photos of the fire.
The northbound services opened shortly after, and the southbound filling station opened on 16 December 2016. The bridge passed a final assessment on the same day. The southbound filling station was later closed again to help manage the traffic.
On 3 January 2017 the southbound toilets, entrances, bridge access (benefiting from a new coat of paint) and facilities associated with the car park were temporarily opened earlier than expected, with boards separating the damaged dining area. Other facilities were available via the bridge.
Full facilities, which are provided in a temporary building located in the HGV park, opened on 23 March 2017, offering Burger King, Chopstix Noodle Bar, Harry Ramsden's, Starbucks, WHSmith, and the motorway network's first branded Little Waitrose. The temporary building had formerly been used as a food hall for athletes during the London 2012 Olympics.
The opening of the temporary southbound building allowed for the destroyed southbound services, including the salvaged portion, to be demolished. This was replaced by a taller and airier building, with a nod to the forest as trees formed part of the structural frame and support
With a clean sheet, an improved dining area could be provided. Internal and external seating areas are positioned by the hotel to overlook the forest. Two entrances are maintained and the footbridge access was reconnected. Toilets are in the far corner, and at the front was a prominent restaurant area, which was later announced to be for use by PizzaExpress.
The new building re-opened on 6 September 2018, with an official opening the following week.