What’s the one word that comes to mind when you think of motorway service stations? Ugly? Overpriced? Disaster? Well, one of those things is about to change and probably the one you care least about.

Transport minister, John Hayes, has put together a task force charged with revitalising the lowly service station to create “beauty at every turn”. Yes, that’s a real quote.

Touched on in our recent podcast, MSL Car Talk, the idea that the transport minister’s main concern with service stations is aesthetics shows a clear disconnect with drivers. Inflated prices at the pumps hold drivers to ransom with no alternative for many who find themselves paying over the odds.

Taking a cue from our European counterparts

In Germany and France, service stations are landscaped areas featuring prominent works of art, in the UK service stations are, for the most part, owned by a handful of large operators including Moto, Welcome Break and Road Chef.

Hayes’ taskforce will also review the possibility of introducing local retailers to combat the domination of fast food and coffee shops chains, with Burger King, Starbucks and Subway among the many ripping off motorists. Hayes added:

“It is my firm belief that motorway service areas should support local independent businesses, source locally produced food and be lovely places to enjoy. Beauty at every turn, every stop.”

Tebay Services on the M6 in Cumbria and Gloucester Services on the M5 currently house farm shops offering local produce, but these are clearly the exception rather than the rule.

King Edmund has his say 

The AA’s PR team were quick on the ball with this story, ensuring that the King and leader of the free world, AA president Edmund King was featured prominently in the story, adding that some of the original service areas such as Watford Gap or Leicester Forest East “look like a throwback to the 1960s with little of the retro appeal”. He went on to say:

“…we must also remember that our service areas are important for all types of visitor from white van man covering the backbone of Britain, to hippies on the way Stonehenge and families off to Cornwall.

“We need variety and we need to attract drivers to stop, as some 10% of fatalities on motorways are due to driver fatigue.”

Following his quote, the AA PR team promptly returned King to his cryogenic freezer to wait for the next big news op.

Change is on hiatus

For those motorists waiting on fair prices at the pumps, I’d suggest not holding your breath in the meantime. While this is a first step to a much-needed makeover for service stations up and down the country, it’s also a step which should have followed an announcement against inflated prices. The transport minister has again got it wrong, although that seems to be a running theme for transport ministers regardless of their political leanings.