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Unbuilt Services On The M27

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Meon Valley westbound onslip.jpg
The unused exit from the planned service area.

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For a list of current service areas on the M27, see Services on the M27.

The M27 was planned to run from Cadnam to Chichester. This was a length of road which, engineers decided, warranted three service stations. These were to be:

Seeing as only one of these was planned and never built, this page will only talk about Meon.

A cautionary note at this point: of all the half-built service areas we have examined, we have never seen one with so many names as Meon. We have seen government documentation refer to it as Meon, Whiteley, Titchfield and Fareham. But the name which seemed to be used most was "Meon".

Identifying the Site

The initial proposal was for a service station in the centre of the motorway, but close to Southampton, as past experience had taught that services close to large populations are more commercially successful. In 1969 three sites were examined: an ideal site at Bursledon (near J8, east of Blundell Lane); and two alternatives - one at J9 (Park Gate), and one east of J9 (Whiteley/Titchfield).

The J8 Bursledon proposal was quickly dismissed as being too environmentally insensitive, as well as difficult to engineer. The J9 Park Gate proposal was also dismissed for being too small: the allocated land would have been largely filled just by the circulatory roads. It was also noted that the Ministry of Transport wanted to build a maintenance compound, and that J9 would have been the perfect place for that. Indeed the Park Gate motorway maintenance compound still exists today, albeit nestled amongst a business park.

The J9 Whiteley/Titchfield proposal was therefore the chosen site by default, despite it also raising a number of environmental concerns for its steep gradients and close proximity to the River Meon. As an added bonus, the land was conveniently up for sale just as the Ministry were enquiring about it. It involves about 17.5 acres of land.

The Other Two

With the ideal site already chosen, it was decided that facilities should be provided 12 miles at either side, so before those sections of the road had been finalised proposals were already afoot for a service area "between Chilworth and Nursling" and "near Emsworth".

A few years later, the precise location of the two additional services still hadn't been confirmed. This wasn't unreasonable as the route of the motorway there hadn't been either. However, it had already been suggested that such a high concentration of services on a road to be used largely by short-distance traffic may be excessive, and it was proposed that a Meon Valley (née Whiteley) services be built or greatly expanded only after the motorway had opened.

Construction

M27 motorway construction.
The site of the westbound services being dug out, as part of the motorway construction.

The consolidation of the three possible services around J8 and J9 in to one confirmed location came too late for the publication of that part of the M27, so the planned Meon Valley service area was pursued separately. This sowed the seeds for the land identified never to be leased out to an operator.

Even so, the final design of J9 was designed with Meon Valley services in mind. Two distinctive and long sliproads were built to provide access to the new services at the same time as J9. The westbound side was designed like Washington southbound (although it's not clear whether traffic would have been able to rejoin the M27 without using the junction), while the eastbound side was designed like the original Burtonwood. Two additional 'ghost slips' marked what would have been the final accesses to the services, ending at the point where the operator would have taken over.

The eastbound slip road into the services (before being surfaced) was actually used during construction to allow vehicles to access the local road network, with evidence of two rear accesses still visible today. The Department for Transport's half of this sliproad now serves as a maintenance compound, fully marked out with cats' eyes but coned off. This maintenance road is home to Britain's first (and only) motorway solar panel.

With hindsight the services would have been a bad idea as traffic would have had to pass through J9, which is now very busy, however the long westbound offslip is useful when traffic queues back from the junction.

A further piece of evidence was removed with the opening of Whiteley in the late 1980s. Until then, traffic leaving the motorway was greeted by a sign offering two exits: one for Fareham and one for "The West, Southampton, M27". Why would traffic leaving the motorway need to know how to get back on - no other motorway exit has that? The answer is they don't, but anybody emerging from the services would have done.

A 1986 document from the Department of Transport stated that they only own the land on one side of the road at Meon, but it doesn't state which side.

Recurring Plans

Of all unbuilt or half-built service stations, there doesn't seem to be one which has been considered more times than Meon. Effectively since 1969 it was always on the back-burner, with every list of planned service stations including "Meon" (or one of its many aliases) at the bottom. The planned opening date would be pushed back a few more years every time.

In 1992, the Department for Transport ended their involvement in service station planning. At Meon, they stated that they had "done preliminary work", and would leave it to the private sector to decide whether they wanted to take it forward. In 1994 and again in 1998 Hampshire County Council said the land at Meon Valley was allocated for a motorway service area and they would support it being used. The Whiteley Local Plan advised that planning permission would be granted for a suitable service area.

In 1999 Esso applied for planning permission to build a large service area and hotel here. There were reports that planning permission was granted in 2001, but refusal documents dated 2003 have been found. The Esso proposal faced the wrath of residents who formed the group Residents Against Motorway Services to argue there was no need for it and that it would breach their human rights. The council argued there was no proven need for it, and that there were road safety and noise issues.

Growth at the ports at Portsmouth and Southampton meant that in 2010 the Highways Agency and Hampshire County Council were hoping to address problems with a lack of HGV parking along the M27 corridor, and one of the options being considered was a new service area, the ideal spark to bring back the planned services.

This didn't happen, and despite the apparent enthusiasm for a new service area, in 2020 Highways England will be removing the extra-long westbound sliproad. This decision appears to be aiming to reduce the amount of hard shoulder available, and to increase the space between junctions.

As part of these roadworks, the unused eastbound offslip was thoroughly refurbished in 2018, for the first time in 43 years. Despite this, some of it is about to be dug up to hold road signs. The eastbound onslip is about to be turned into an emergency refuge area (lay-by).

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