Closing Exeter is a great idea

Closing Exeter is a great idea

I read with interest that the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan is expected to propose closing both Exeter services and Cullompton services, and replacing them both with one new site.

At this stage it's important I stress that any idea like this wouldn't happen for decades, and in that time it's very likely that the idea would hit a stumbling block and be cancelled. It's just not going to happen.

That's a shame, because of all of the transport aspirations I've heard lately, I think closing Exeter services - and I'm going to pick on Exeter here - is the best one.

For all too long now Britain's planners have treated motorway service areas like haunted monuments we daren't touch in case it unleashes a curse. In truth the greatest curse of all is a roundabout that has been covered in traffic lights and crazy lane markings.

Busy car park
I have no issue with Exeter services, just with the chaos it causes in Exeter.

That's what happened at Exeter. My grudge has nothing to do with the current owners, and everything to do with the eight sets of traffic lights you have to pass through before you get to the car park.

It's not a break, it's a headache. It puts people off, and it stops locals getting around. I'm pretty sure there are people who spent their entire holiday trying to find their way around that roundabou.

Back when the government owned all the motorway service areas, it was easy for them to move one if they needed to. Now they've all been sold off, the costs and negotiations involved terrify authorities so much they wouldn't even lay a cone in one.

So even if the junction designers had the enthusiasm to fix a problem roundabout properly, they are forced to tip-toe around service station entrances because they aren't allowed to suggest the service station might be causing the problem.

That's why the ambition of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan surprised me. It seriously wants to move two busy service areas.

If the GESP ever gets its way, those damned roundabouts under the M5 at Exeter would be free to concentrate on people who live in the area. A whole-new exit on the M5 would be geared entirely towards those long-distance travellers who need a break. What kind-of genius witchcraft is that?

Sure, it's only an ambition, but it's refreshing to hear of an idea that is both proactive and could make life better for everybody.

Exeter services sign

The GESP has been allowed to find a fresh approach to a service station problem precisely because it wasn't created to deal with this. It's a regional planning strategy, and it's only really interested in the people and businesses based in the area.

What happened is that the GESP was considering how new houses could be built in Exeter and Cullompton, and it realised that the two motorway service areas were actually wasting ideal land.

Again, I can't argue with them. When Exeter services was chosen in 1969, this was a completely rural area. The motorway hadn't even been built.

Today the place is unmistakeably part of Exeter's urban area. There is already a housing estate literally opposite it. Housing estates need facilities, but they don't need lorry parks - lorry parks belong in the urban fringe, and can easily be moved a few miles up the road.

Back in 1969, the Ministry of Transport didn't foresee the city of Exeter growing so much. They didn't even foresee that arranging everything around a massive roundabout might not be such a good idea.

We can't change what they did - but I don't see why we should be welded to their ideas forever.

Tedious about the author bit

Travel historian, presenter, producer. I love the places people pass through along their journey.

I research and write about how our need to get around continues to shape our world through roads, railways, airports and whole new towns.

My thoughts and/or research have been published by the likes of Truck & Driver, BBC local radio, Daily Express, The Guardian, Mail Online and The Independent (detail).

I can't tell you how many toll booths I've been through. But it's a lot of toll booths.

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Any similarities with real-life events or wealthy international firms is probably coincidental. No products endorsed. I'm powered by Monster Munch.

© 2020 Johnathan Randall.