5.1 MSAs have been planned and controlled by the Department of Transport ever since motorways were first built. This was seen as the best way of ensuring that all motorway users had regular opportunities to rest during their journeys and to obtain essential services: fuel, lavatories, food and drink.
5.2 Until 1980 MSAs were let following a consideration of tenders which were invited from interested parties by the Department of Transport. The tender documents required offers to be submitted on the basis of a lease, usually for a term of 50 years (three sites let on 21 year terms), at a fixed annual rent plus a “participating rent” calculated as a percentage on a sliding scale of the annual turnover after deduction of petrol duty, tobacco tax and VAT. Acquisition of the land, provision of access roads, landscaping, parking areas, lighting and basic services were financed by the Department of Transport. The operator paid for buildings and equipment. The leases initially required the operator to:-
a. Maintain the site and buildings in good repair, including those facilities provided in the first instance by the Department.
b. Provide services for 24 hours every day including toilets, food and drink, petrol and repair facilities (since relaxed).
c. Provide up to four brands of fuel.
The cost of provision of the free facilities, such as toilets, was heavy and 24 hour opening necessitated a three shift employment system. Because most sites are in rural locations site operators were obliged to convey staff from surrounding areas which added to their costs.
5.3 In 1980/81 the Government embarked on a programme of disposal of MSA sites to the operators following publication of a Report of the Committee of Inquiry into MSAs (known as the Prior Report) in 1978. The report recommended that existing contracts should be re-negotiated to achieve an equitable transition towards new consistent lease terms with the aim of redressing the imbalance of return between operators and the Exchequer, improving standards, removing unnecessary constraints and reducing fuel prices for consumers. The existing leases were surrendered to the Department and new 50 year leases granted to the operators at peppercorn rents and a premium.
5.4 Since the 1980s the method of providing MSAs has been for the DTp to:-
- identify gaps in the network;
- select suitable sites to fill these gaps;
- seek planning clearance;
- acquire the land by agreement or, more usually, compulsory purchase;
- offer the sites, usually by competitive tender, for design, construction and subsequent operation by private concerns (either oil companies or catering operators such as Granada, Trusthouse Forte etc).
Operation is governed by fifty year leases (granted by the DTp in return for a premium payment and peppercorn rent) which ensure that specified quantities of parking and other required facilities are provided 24 hours a day;
- avoid adjacent MSAs being operated by the same company;
- sign MSAs, but not off-motorway facilities, from the motorway;
maintain landlord controls over the use of the site (but not its day to day operation which remains the responsibility of the operator).
5.5 Some sites have been, and are being, identified by the private sector as a “private initiative”. In “private initiative” cases an MSA operator, developer, or land owner, obtains a suitable site which is sold, usually with planning permission, to the Department at market value ignoring the value as a service area. The site is leased back to the operator for a term of not less than 50 years at a peppercorn rent and a premium to reflect the right to put up a motorway sign and gain access to the motorway. In such cases the operator is responsible for building the access road, which can be a very expensive item. In cases where the Department of Transport already own the site it is usually put out to tender with the access road already constructed.
5.6 Under both of these methods the Department of Transport impose certain conditions on the operation of MSAs in order to secure basic services for all motorway users at all times. These conditions are that MSAs must provide:-
- Services for all motorway users 24 hours a day every day of the year;
- at least hot drinks and cold food at all times;
- unleaded petrol and diesel;
- free lavatories with public access;
- free parking for two hours (after which charges may be made) in quantities specified by the Department of Transport;
- a picnic area of at least half an acre;
- showers and shaver points for lorry drivers;
- public telephones;
- a tourist information point if required by the Regional Tourist Board;
- a police post if required by the local constabulary;
- all facilities to be made available and accessible to disabled people (eg. dedicated parking spaces to be reserved near amenities);
and they must not:
- allow the sale or consumption of alcohol;
- allow rear access to the site to be used other than by MSA staff, delivery vehicles, and the emergency services;
- be used for purposes unconnected with the use of the motorway. The MSA must not become a destination in its own right, generating extra traffic on the motorway. Its purpose is to serve the incidental needs of people in the course of a motorway journey.
5.7 In August 1992 the Government announced that they were reducing the central regulation of motorway service facilities in favour of a greater role by the private sector. The new approach is designed to increase competition and choice for drivers and passengers and the main features of the arrangement include:-
*responsibility for identifying new MSA sites, seeking planning permission and acquiring land will pass from the Department of Transport to the private sector;
- the minimum interval between MSAs will be reduced from around 30 miles to about 15;
continued guarantee of 24 hour access, fuel availability, free parking and toilet facilities.
5.8 In recent years restrictions on advertising signage on motorways has been relaxed with advertising of significant brands on blue motorway service signs now commonplace. This has resulted in increased competition between sites with each trying to increase visitor numbers.
5.9 Following a relaxation of licensing regulations on motorway sites in 2014, JD Weatherspoon opened the first public house at Beaconsfield services on the M40.