UK motorway services “worst in Europe”

As a truck driver I regularly have to experience the joys of using Britain’s motorway service stations, particularly of course those around London. Now the AA has said ours are Europe’s worst, and they single out Sandbach on the M6 in Cheshire as the worst in the whole of Europe. I haven’t been to any service stations on the Continent since about 1994, but the stations here are pretty ropey by anyone’s standards. They have improved a bit over the years, introducing things like “real” coffee bars (in one chain, run by Costa), but the same old problems remain: prices are sky high and the range of goods is limited. In one chain, I discovered that the water in the toilet taps was far too hot, and the spray taps too highly pressurised. When I tried to complain about one of these problems, I discovered that the staff did not speak English, and on another occasion, I was fobbed off with some lame excuse.

There is another big gripe I have with these service stations. They are all, with a handful of exceptions (probably less), owned by three companies, which trade as Moto (previously Granada), Roadchef and Welcome Break. Whenever a new motorway is built, traffic is taken off an A-road, destroying most of the catering opportunities along that road, leading to family-owned businesses going to the wall, as they are deprived of the ready advertising of a large roadside site and usually they are unable to advertise to motorway traffic. And they provide no concessions to minority food needs - including, of course, Muslims - even along routes between cities with large Muslim populations. The same seems to be true on the railways, by the way - I have never seen a halal food stand at any railway station anywhere.

This is quite apart from the environmental damage caused by bulldozing through the countryside an eight-lane highway, on average (three in each direction, plus two hard shoulders - plus verges), which is often not necessary. The M40 from London to Birmingham is a classic case (I am referring to the bit north of Oxford, built much later than the original London-Oxford stretch) - there were two perfectly good roads across the region this stretch of the M40 serves, which could have been upgraded to dual carriageway. More recently, we have seen the totally unnecessary upgrade of the A1 road, including an eight-lane road south of Peterborough. They have actually assigned junction numbers from one end to the other, indicating that their long-term plan is a motorway all the way from London to Newcastle. If their concern is to speed traffic up, surely they can improve the quality of the road, assigning to it an intermediate sub-motorway status as exists on the continent, which would avoid most of the destruction and land waste caused by motorway building?

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