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Unbuilt Services On The M4

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For a list of current service areas on the M4, see Services on the M4.

When the first few motorways were planned, their service stations were all very well organised. It all went wrong with the M4.

Part of the problem was that the M4 was developed in two separate sections: between London and Maidenhead, and broadly between Bristol and Newport. These two sections had their service areas neatly organised, as you might expect. They were:

  • SA32: Heston (J2-3)
  • (gap where the road hadn't been built)
  • SA30: Pucklechurch (J18-19)
  • SA29: Aust (J21)
  • SA28: Wilcrick (J23-24)

This system worked, with service areas being provided at roughly 15-mile intervals. Heston and Aust were both treated as premier sites and were built first, with Pucklechurch and Wilcrick to be built when traffic levels rose.

The system worked because the public inquiry to build motorway service areas was always included with the one for the main motorway. In 1968, plans were in place to fill the gap between Maidenhead and Bristol, initially by extending the Maidenhead Bypass west a little. A new service area would be needed, and Warren Copse was chosen as the site.

The Warren Copse services plan was hugely unpopular at the public inquiry. Berkshire County Council claimed it would ruin the area's natural beauty, that the chosen site was a haven for wildlife and that it was too close to the village of Shurlock Row. The subject was debated in Prime Minister's Questions.

The Ministry of Transport conceded that there were "technical problems", and decided that no service area would be built with the new road. Plans for new service areas would be pursued separately. This made it very difficult to plan the remaining service areas on this section, because there was nothing to measure the distance to.

M4 Extensions

Shurlock Row village.
The village of Shurlock Row, besides the sites of Warren Copse and Great Hazes.

Thanks to the Warren Copse problem, we have never seen a confirmed plan for service stations between Maidenhead and Bristol - just a long list of possible options. Work on the M4 was going ahead even though there was no plan for its service areas. This caused a sign to be erected on the M4 advising that Heston was the last service area "for 106 miles".

We would suggest that the plan was as follows:

  • A service area would be added near Datchet, initially to fill the gap between Heston and Warren Copse, but it probably became more pressing when the Warren Copse issues arose.
  • One to the west of Reading, probably west of J12, with east of J12 as an alternative.
  • This leaves a large gap, in which we have seen no proposals.
  • Membury was built between J14 and J15, with another site slightly to the west considered as an alternative.
  • One to the north of Wootton Bassett, between J16 and J17.
  • Leigh Delamere was built between J17 and J18.
  • This would join up with the site being held in reserve at Pucklechurch.

The logical outcome would be that there was another service area planned near J13 which we aren't aware of. That, coupled with the site west of Membury, would make the spacing more even. That's just a theory; it doesn't mean this was what was planned.

Membury and Leigh Delamere were purchased, built and opened shortly after the motorway. The reserve sites held either side of those two bear some resemblance to the policy of holding every-other site in reserve that had been followed by other motorways until now. The difference was these reserve sites would not be purchased until they were needed, which is why there is so little information on them.

Warren Copse Saga

The failed Warren Copse plan of 1968 involved a 34 acre site with single-storey buildings. There would have been a footbridge provided as part of the road construction

Berkshire County Council suggested the service area be built on Upperwood Farm near Earley instead. The Ministry were happy to go with this, and suggested it have single-storey buildings, a pedestrian footbridge and rear access to Cutbush Lane. The building 'Rushy Mead' would have had to be demolished. It was expected to open in December 1972.

While the Ministry started work on the planning for Earley services, in 1974 the local government restructure brought about a new Berkshire County Council. The new council formally withdrew their support for Earley and argued that there was no need for any more services between the ones which had already been built at Heston and Membury (a gap of 55 miles). They did recommend another site at Field Farm - which is where Reading services was eventually built - but this time the council advised that they wouldn't be supporting it.

A joint public inquiry was then held, which aimed to decide between Warren Copse and Earley. Environmental concerns caused both proposals to be dropped. It was later stated that "opposition" was the problem at Earley.

Throughout the 1980s the Department of Transport continued to insist they were looking at a possible service area "in the Reading area". This eventually led to Reading services being built.

When the M25 was opened in 1985, the issue of the lack of services between Reading and Heston (and onwards along the M25) became an issue again. A number of private developers made proposals for new services in the Maidenhead area, which resulted in lengthy public inquiries in 1999 and 2002. These concluded that there was a problem, but that the best place to resolve it was on the M25.

Different in Wales

West of Newport, the planning of service areas on the M4 was delegated to the Welsh Office. They didn't really have the resources to set up the planning and tendering system like the Ministry of Transport had been using, so instead they decided to let individual firms decide for themselves where the service areas would be built.

This led to a large number of rival service areas being built close together, all being built in offline locations. There was no strategy to link them up.

This same policy was adopted by the Department for Transport in England in 1992. They had previously quipped, "[The Welsh] like to do their own thing with that little motorway of theirs", but when the English system was changed they said that they were inspired by the success of the Welsh system.

The Unused Sites

M4 motorway.
Looking towards the slip roads provided for Pucklechurch.

The confusion outlined above means that the M4 has very little evidence of any unbuilt service areas. There are two, both on one of the older sections. These sites can both be matched up with the map above.

Pucklechurch

The Pucklechurch site (SA30; J18-19) had all four ghost slips built. The 16 acre site was purchased by the Ministry of Transport, and held in reserve with no immediate plans to use it.

In the 1960s there were talks about the Bristol East Loop Road meeting the M4 at a new junction "near Pucklechurch, close to J18". It's not unheard of for planned service area sites to have been considered for other uses too. This proposed road has been suggested multiple times since.

In 1994 the Department of Transport explained that the ownership of the land was disputed. They advised that they understood the land wasn't being used, and that it was theirs to sell. Recent maps show that the land is not owned by Highways England, but they do own two long drainage ditches which run down the farm access.

Wilcrick

The Wilcrick site (SA29; J23-24) was similar, with four ghost slips but no evidence of any land being purchased.

However those four slip roads were impacted when the M4 was widened in the 1990s, and in the 2000s their condition deteriorated fast.

With hindsight the location is far too close to M4 J23A, and would probably have been dangerous with modern traffic levels.

Private Proposals

Motorway flyovers.
The Almondsbury Interchange, where Fortes wanted to connect their service area.

Since 1992, developers have been solely responsible for coming up with their own proposals for new motorway services. This led to an increase in proposals, but they are normally clustered around the same area and most are quickly ruled out.

Some of the new motorway services once planned for the M4 we have uncovered include:

Place Location Proposed Resolved Outcome Notes
Almondsbury J19 (west side) 1960 1960 Withdrawn. This was only a proposal, but it is interesting. Motorway Services Ltd advised that they were considering purchasing this land, and that they wanted the motorway junction to accommodate it. They were told it was technically impossible and against the regulations.
Pont Abraham J49 (west side) 198x 1983 Built.
Chieveley J13 (south-east corner) 1986 1986 Signed. Was built to serve the A34, but some signs were placed on the M4 anyway.
Swansea West J47 (north side) 198x 1991? Built.
Cardiff West J33 (north side) 1981 1991 Built.
Sarn Park J36 (north-west corner) 198x 1986? Built.
Cardiff Gate J33 (south side) 1988 2000 Built. Planned by Heron Homes and Brunswick IDL.
Magor J23A (north side) 1987 1992 Built. Planned by Granada/Esso and Whitbread/BP.
Reading J12-13 1987 1995 Built. Originally a Department of Transport plan, then Mobil.
Castleton J29 (south-west corner) 1990 1992 Refused. Objected to by Cardiff Borough Council who wanted to develop J30.
Wilcrick J23A-24 1991 1992 Refused.
Wootton Bassett (Hook) J16-17 (Ballards Ash) 1994 1995 Refused. Planned by Roadchef and Messrs A & L Basson; Tucker Parry Knowles and Extra.
Pucklechurch J18-19 (west of Burbarrow Lane) 1994 1996 Refused on appeal. Planned by Granada/Boulevard Land Ltd. East of and larger than the previous reserved site.
Lyde Green J18-19 (east of Coxgrove Hill) 1994 1996 Refused. Planned by J H Higgins. Temporary site layout designed to accommodate M4 J18A - refused because it interfered with that plan.
Maidenhead (Holyport) J8/9 (south side) 1994 2003 Refused on appeal. Planned by Granada with Boulevard Land Ltd. Thrown out at public inquiry. A 'westbound only' and an 'all-moves' version of the plan were both produced. Featured in 1999 and 2002 public inquiries; refused because it's green belt land and would do "substantial harm". Opposed by M4 MSA Action Group.
Great Hazes J8/9-10 (near Mare Lane) 1995 2003 Refused on appeal. Eastbound side only. Planned by Hallam Land Management and Avalon Enterprises. Taken to 1999 and 2002 public inquiries; refused because it's green belt land. Opposed by M4 MSA Action Group.
Maidenhead (Braywick) J8/9 (north-east side) 1995 2000 Refused on appeal. Planned by Stansford Holdings Ltd.
Great Wood J8/9-10 (near Howe Lane) 1996 2003 Refused on appeal. Planned by Extra with Roadchef, later just Extra. One version was for westbound traffic only, a second version had an underpass and loop to allow both directions to access it. The underpass was removed because it would have been too difficult to build here. Featured in 1999 and 2002 public inquiries; refused because it's green belt land. Opposed by M4 MSA Action Group.
Margram (Port Talbot) J37-38 (by Eglwys Nunydd Reservoir) 1980, 1999 2003 Withdrawn. 1999 plan came from Welsh Development Agency.

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