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Sawtry services

Road:A1 between J14 and J15
(Google Maps link)
Address:Toll Bar
Great North Road
PE28 5XW
Previous names:Toll Bar
Grid reference:TL177823 (SABRE Maps)
Services type:Two sites located between junctions, with no public connection between them.

Toll Bar services (widely known as just Sawtry) was a dual-sided service area on the old A1. It is now known for the abandoned buildings it left behind.


Full details: A1(M) Planning Applications

The northbound side started out as an orchard and terraced housing on Ermine Street, the historic route of the Great North Road. On the southbound side was the Toll Bar Cottages.

In the 1970s a northbound garage and bungalow were built, as well as a southbound petrol station. In the early 1980s the Sawtry North branch of Happy Eater opened next to the northbound garage, which became a full petrol station. A Travelodge opened in 1984, too.

The corresponding Sawtry South Happy Eater was a mile down the road at Redwings. The Toll Bar Cottages were demolished in the early 1980s.

In the early 1990s the service area grew again, with a Travelodge being built behind the northbound petrol station. In 1996, as with all Happy Eater branches, it was converted to become a Little Chef and the two operated as a pair. The forecourt was branded Q8.

Everything changed in 1998, when the old Ermine Street was replaced by the new A1(M) motorway. The upgraded road narrowly passed the old northbound services, taking away some of the petrol station. A new road, Toll Bar Way, was built to the west and provided access to what was left of the northbound side. Too much of the southbound side was taken by the new road and it had to be demolished. In theory it would have almost fit in the gap between the A1(M) and the new B1043, but that's before you account for the effect of the new embankments.

The hotel was compulsory purchased by the Highways Agency, although the building itself survived. The site therefore continued as just a Little Chef, positioned on the old road and accessed from the nearby A1(M) J15. Remarkably this situation lasted until 2007. Arguably it was now doing the work of three other branches, but given that it was hidden away from the motorway, it's still no surprise that it should be a casualty of Little Chef's financial difficulties.

At this point the site was abandoned. The remote and discrete Little Chef later became Pulse & Cocktails Adult Superstore. There had been a plan to reopen the hotel, but it didn't happen.

In 1993, Forte did register a plan to upgrade the site. This would have been likely to be with a view to receiving road signs on the new A1(M). Their planning application was refused, and Peterborough services was built instead.

New Services

Sawtry site layout.
The planned road and site layout.

As a brownfield site close to a junction on the A1(M), there have been several proposals to bring it back into use. One option, dated 2010, would have rebuilt the petrol station and brought the motel back into use. A developer received planning permission, but couldn't find an operator to sell it to.

In 2015 there was a plan to bring the hotel into use. It was refurbished internally, but never reopened.

In 2019, motorway operator Moto announced that they were planning to turn the site into a new service area.

The new amenity building takes a hangar-style design. On the ground floor (walking from the entrance to the toilets) would be Greggs, WHSmith, M&S Simply Food, Costa, Burger King and KFC. There would be seating by the entrance, and a Costa lounge upstairs. There would also be a petrol station which had been expected to hold a drive thru Costa, but that has now been removed.

Unlike other services they have proposed recently, this one will be much smaller and although it will be positioned off a junction, it will only be available to northbound traffic. The junction is much quieter than the other junctions Moto have been targeting lately, so less work would be required.

Highways England have indicated that they are "reasonably happy" with it serving the northbound carriageway only, but there is a problem that the land is not large enough for an abnormal load parking bay. Highways England have agreed "in principle" to overlook this, as the junction cannot handle abnormal loads anyway.

The chosen site is a strategic move which introduces the Moto brand to a new section of road. It is positioned prior to the busy Peterborough services, while to the south there is the expanding service area at Brampton Hut. Also in its favour are the facts that a truckstop at Alconbury recently closed, a rival operators' service area at Black Cat is expected to close at 2021, and the opening of the upgraded A14 may further increase traffic levels.

The proposal is currently being considered by Huntingdonshire District Council. Extra are among those who have objected to the proposal, arguing that there is no need for it.

A previous plan from Moto involved working around the hotel, and bringing the hotel building back into use. The hotel building will now be demolished.

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