Since the road opened, there have been debates about building an extra service area on the M27. A new name seems to be found every single time, but the site identified for Meon services is easy to spot for the two lengthy sliproads at J9, one of which isn't disused. It consists of about 17.5 acres of land.
With plans for a motorway between The New Forest and Chichester close to fruition, attention turned to services.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Of all unbuilt or half-built service stations, there doesn't seem to be one which has been considered more times than Meon. Every couple of years in the 1970s and 1980s, documents would point out that a service area would be built here soon, subject to local environmental concerns.
In 1990 a programme to reduce the gaps between existing services put Meon back on the cards, but nothing came of it. In 1998 Hampshire County Council said it was still being held in reserve and they would support it being used. In 1999 Esso were refused planning permission to build a large service area and hotel here, with the council claiming there was no proven need for it at the moment, and also citing road safety and noise concerns.
In 2001 permission was granted but Esso chose not to use it. This attempt received a number of objections from 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 plan was designed by the same architect who designed Norton Canes services.
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, in 2021 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. The unused eastbound onslip will be turned into an emergency refuge area (lay-by).