The look and feel of Britain’s motorways could be set to fundamentally change, if plans to relax controls on new service stations are implemented by the coalition Government.
In a week that saw Health Minister Anna Soubry suggest it was time to ban smoking in cars, the Department of Transport are considering another fundamental change to the British driving experience.
At the moment, legislation controls the size of buildings by the side of British Motorways and includes a 12-mile exclusion zone around any Service Station. If proposals are relaxed, it could be good news for consumers. As well as more choice, new service stations will have to offer free parking for two hours, free toilets and be open 365 days a year and 24 hours a day.
The notion of relaxing size and location rules governing roadside building was first mooted back in 1992. Prime Minister John Major told the Conservative Party Annual Conference:
Every parent knows what I mean, next services 54 miles when your children can’t make ten. They’ve got to go and those rules have to go.
According to David Lawrence, the author of Food on the Move: the Extraordinary World of the Motorway Service Area, the role and aesthetic of the British Service Station has never truly been agreed upon by stakeholders:
(Ever since the building of the UK’s main roads in the Fifties) The Government wanted Service Stations to be very utilitarian places while the providers wanted as much glamour as possible. What we got was a place that the government understood as being functional and the operators understood as being entertainment.
Until now, legislation has included a clause that Service Stations cannot be a destination in their own right (which would increase traffic flow and be counter-productive). This philosophy may be relaxed but don’t get expect to see roadside fun fairs any time soon.
It is hoped that more service stations on M and A roads might increase competition and reduce petrol prices (and hopefully the astronomic cost of eating). It will also put an end to huge stretches of motorway which are currently un-serviced.
The most recent M25 service station to be opened was at Cobham between Junction 9 and 10. Before then, drivers travelling around the London ring road had just three options – Clacket Lane between Junction 5 and 6 to the south, Thurrock between Junctions 30 and 31 to the east and South Mimms to the north at M25 Junction 23/A1 Junction 1. Cobham Services was built on green belt land and opened on October 6th 2012, much to the consternation of environmentalist – for hungry drivers however the site punctuation around 60 miles of barren M25 motorway.
The Government is even suggesting that increasing the number of roadside Service Stations could have a tangible positive effect on the country’s economy. It would seem that an increase in the number of Cobhams is likely, giving more choice to British motorists and, hopefully, the country’s economy a little Extra.