Unbuilt Services On The M5
For a list of current service areas on the M5, see Services on the M5.
The M5 is often described as being the motorway to the beach. That description would be unfair on all the other places it serves, but its role as a holiday route is key to the problem with planning its service areas: what do you do when all the service areas are going to be overloaded in summer and desolate in winter?
The answer, it seems, is to put them in terrible places. The M5 has more service areas positioned at awful junctions than any other motorway. That's not really a design feature, but here's a guide as to how the service areas were selected.
The Original Plan
Part of the M5, between Bromsgrove and Strensham, was planned before the M1 was even open. This means there was no time to reflect on what had and hadn't worked, and the same mistake of making service areas too small was repeated.
The M5 also used the same strategy of building every-other service area, and holding every-other site in reserve. The use of MOT Numbers seemed to vary depending on how advanced the plans were. The plan was as follows:
- SA13: Frankley (J3-4)
- Newland Common (J5-6)
- SA31: Strensham (J7-8)
- Staverton (J10-11)
- Moreton Valence (J12-13)
- Michaelwood (J13-14)
- SA61: Gordano (J19)
- Kingston Seymour (J20-21)
- Brent Knoll (J21-22)
- either East Bower or North Petherton (around J24)
- Taunton Deane (J25-26)
- Willand (J27-28)
- SA84: Exeter (J30)
When you look at it like that, the decision to build Michaelwood instead of Moreton Valence seems odd. Unlike most other motorways, service areas on the M5 were measured from three points: West Bromwich, Bristol and Exeter. Michaelwood was one of several experiments designed to be robust enough to deal with the M5's low winter traffic levels, and it was built to have only a petrol station. Brent Knoll, now called Sedgemoor, was a similar experiment, but that one involved building a picnic area only.
The unfortunate decision to place Gordano and Exeter at two very busy roundabouts was made due to a lack of space. Several alternative sites were looked at.
The Unused Sites
The M5 was built in both the 1960s and the 1970s. In 1972 there was a turning point, following problems on the M4, where new service areas would no longer be included in the motorway's public inquiry. This meant that from this point service area planning became more vague, as there was no longer a need to commit to a plan before work on the motorway could start.
These sites can all be matched up with the map above.
Newland Common (J5-6) was supposed to be the M5's first service area, with Frankley and Strensham intended to be the reserve sites. The plan was changed because the journey between Newland Common and Corley was too far (the M42 hadn't been built at the time).
The revised plan had Newland Common as a reserve site which would be brought into action when it was needed. It was erroneously marked as open in some atlases. It was likely to host a maintenance compound, but this was cancelled too.
A press report in 1973 said an experimental picnic area was being considered at Newland Common. This didn't happen, but one was built down the road at Sedgemoor.
In 1985 the M5 was widened, which caused the site to be changed and the ghost slips to be removed.
Further plans were submitted for a service area in the 1990s. These were often called Primsland, or sometimes Droitwich.
At Staverton (J10-11), the land was never bought or prepared, there are four ghost slips.
Unlike many planned infill services, a full plan was drawn up. It included two small amenity buildings connected by a footbridge. There would have been a picnic area at the back of each building and parking areas at the far end of each side.
Moreton Valence (J12-13) was provided with four ghost slips, serving two fields which were slightly offset. The fields, which partly included a disused runway, were purchased and prepared. The site totals 38 acres and was owned by the Department for the Environment's motorway department.
Two farm tracks were constructed to link the fields to Standish Lane. These would have formed the rear access.
One of the concerns with the site is that it's very exposed meaning sensitivity was required in the design. It was originally planned in 1968 to open in 1970, then repeatedly postponed. November 1971 was another date provided.
Taverna and Granada would have been allowed to bid for the services, despite them owning Leigh Delamere, as little traffic was expected to take that route. Unlike other service areas on the M5, Moreton Valence was expected to be fairly busy from opening.
In 1994, the Department of Transport confirmed that the land was being let for agricultural purposes. It's reported that Highways England still own it.
Kingston Seymour (J20-21) has no evidence on the ground of a service area being planned here, but we do know that the land was purchased by the Department for the Environment's motorway construction unit for that purpose.
The level of the site was raised to about 2m to 3m above the surrounding area with boulder sized rock fill (slightly higher than the adjoining M5), which presumably came from the cuttings around Gordano Valley.
In the 1990s, the Department of Transport explained that they had decided the existing service areas here would be enough, and that there was no need to develop another one here. The land was being let for agricultural purposes. They were intending to sell the land, but stressed that they would not be advertising it as a potential service station. At least as recently as 2006, the land was still owned by the Highways Agency; some sources suggest it still is.
North Petherton (J24-25) was the vaguest proposals on the M5. Being far from both Bristol and Exeter, service areas along this part of the M5 were of little consequence to the rest of the road. It didn't help that the M5 here didn't open until 1975, and was one of the last sections of the M5 to open.
One study, dated 1970, listed the address of future service areas at Taunton Deane, and two possible sites at North Petherton (Moon Lane and West Newton Lane). There were also references to another site considered nearer Bridgwater.
A search for sites on the M5 north of Exeter found Velhay and Willand, both between J27 and J28. Willand was described as "fairly level site of grass land in a slight saucer shaped depression". No further action was taken.
In the summer of 1978, Exeter and Taunton Deane had both struggled to cope. As a result, it was confirmed that the Willand service area was going to be developed. However this didn't happen, and the other two were eventually expanded instead.
In 1998 another motorway service area was proposed here. It wasn't built, and the site is now occupied by Diggerland.
Overcourt didn't make the original plan, but it's worth discussing because it came close.
The site is at M5 J17 - now very busy because of the retail parks nearby. It was ruled out in favour of building Gordano at J19, although frankly both sites are very congested roundabouts. The problem with the Overcourt plan was that the area was too exposed.
Unlike many other services considered, a full plan was drawn up for this one: there would have been a filling station and police station by the entrance, a trucker's café, a large coach parking area at the furthest end and a car park next to a small amenity building.
Unusually for services of that era, this would have involved a new junction being created on the B4055, with traffic having to head up that B-road to access it.
Although the main site planned was in the north-east corner, another option in the south-west was considered. The problem was that it was an open area with houses close by.
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 M5 we have uncovered include:
|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.|
|Hardwicke||J12 (west side)||199?||199?||Refused.|
|Hardwicke||J12 (east side)||199?||199?||Refused.||Planned by Extra.|
|Hadzor||J5-6 (Cockshute Hill Farm)||1993||1994||Refused.||Planned by William Davis.|
|Cullompton||J28 (north-west corner)||1993||1999||Built.||Northbound only, as a partner to Tiverton.|
|Bridgwater||J24 (south-west corner)||1994||1998||Refused on appeal.||Planned by Welcome Break, taken over by Granada.|
|Tiverton||J27 (south-east corner)||1994||2000||Withdrawn.||Southbound only, as a partner to Cullompton.|
|Worcester (Warndon)||J6 (south-east corner)||1995||1997||Refused on appeal.||Planned by Extra. To be accessed from new roundabout on Pershore Lane. Refused because of an insufficient need.|
|Droitwich||J5-6||1995||1996||Refused.||Planned by the Highways Agency.|
|Bridgwater||J24 (business park)||1997||1999||Built.||Planned by Boulevard Land Ltd, Mike Stacey Ltd.|
|East Bower||J23-24 (Bower Lane)||1997||1998||Refused.||Planned by Somerset County Council. The Highways Agency refused to allow it to be connected to the M5, and Roadchef objected.|
|Brockworth||J11A (south-east corner)||1997||2001||Refused on appeal.||Planned by Bryant. Objected to by Welcome Break and Roadchef.|
|Bridgwater||J24 (east side)||1997||ongoing||Planned by Hallam Land Management, S Notaro Land Ltd.|
|Willand||J24 (east side)||1991||2001||Withdrawn.||Southbound only. Planned by The Verbeer Manor Partnership.|
|Poltimore House||J28-29||2020||ongoing||This is only an aspiration from the local authority. We wouldn't normally mention it, but such aspirations are rare. It is designed to replace both Cullompton and Exeter, and is close to the original planned site for Exeter.|