"“We have lent a huge amount of money to the U.S. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I am definitely a little worried.” "

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao 12th March 2009

""We have a financial system that is run by private shareholders, managed by private institutions, and we'd like to do our best to preserve that system."

Timothy Geithner US Secretary of the Treasury, previously President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.1/3/2009

Thursday, August 28, 2008

UK Motorway service network 50 years old.

The post war motorways had their origins in an investigation by the Councils of the four Counties in the Regions into a route for a North-South motorway in the mid-1930s . Halted by the war , in 1946, the Minister of Transport announced a 10-year programme of construction, which included the Preston by-pass. In 1949, of the Lancashire County Council's Road Plan proposed two categories of motorway, the first for through traffic, and the second, for inter-urban links.

Trunk road construction had been curtailed and virtually non-existent since the beginning of the 1939 war, and the road construction of the 1930s tended to follow ground levels. Grade separated interchanges were never envisaged. A new and steep learning curve was involved with the construction of Motorways and the (then) novel concept of uninterrupted traffic flow.

It is possible that the huge growth of the nuclear power industry was a factor in developing these roads - facilitating perhaps the exodus of massive civilian populations which may be needed if things went wrong. Which of course they had done on October 10th 1957 at the primitive Windscale piles - now Sellafield.

It seems remarkable but the UK Motorway network was opened to traffic 50 years ago when Prime Minister Harold Macmillan opened the 8.25 mile Preston By Pass with 19 very distinctive bridges and built by Tarmac. It was designed for a speed of 70 mph, but was opened without any speed limit. There is a wonderful pdf of the booklet produced for the opening here.

An experimental speed limit of 70 mph was introduced for motorways in December 1965, after a series of multiple crashes on motorways, and made permanent in 1967.

It is claimed that Jack Sears and Peter Bolton in a 427 AC Cobra Coupe were calculated to have done 185mph on the M1 motorway in 1964, during shakedown tests prior to that year's Le Mans 24hr race - which they didn't finish due to an accident. The Police lobbied for the revised speed limit so they could catch speedsters.

It was reduced to 50 mph in response to the 1973 oil crisis, and restored to 70 mph in 1974.

The new motorways introduced central rservations ot separate traffic flows and high level lighting - this was installed at Preston but some mandarin at the Department of Transport decided that they should be removed before the motorway was opened, "due to change of policy" - apparently they thought the site looked "cluttered". Plus ca change

One of the first Motorway service stations, opened in 1965 was at Forton, just north of Preston. It was designed by Sir Thomas Penberthy Bennett KBE FRIBA who ,amongst other things was Chairman of the Development Corporation of Crawley New Town, in West Sussex. He was also the splendidly titled Director of Bricks at the Ministry of Works during WWII. Whilst it may seem an absurd title he held a major responsibility - during WWII Chellaston Minerals near Derby were required to have sufficient bricks for a major rebuilding of the Derby Rolls Royce factory where the famous Merlin engines were manufactured, in case it was seriously damaged in enemy bombing raids.

The striking airport style tower housed the hexagonal Pennine full service restaurant and a publicly accessible sun terrace with striking views. It is still standing but not used as it fails to meet current Health & Safety and Fire regulations.

A visit to Forton (Now Moto Lancaster) , 2 weeks after it opened, whilst on the way to a field trip to Ingleborough to find the striking Birds Nest orchid Neotiia nidus avis which is a mycotrophic plant totally devoid of chlorophyll was memorable.

After a hearty breakfast a visit to the toilets revealed a recent and carefully inscribed sgraffito, which we have never seen or heard of since ..which is worth repeating ...

Shithouse poets, I despise
They think they are so bloody wise,
But, for all their foolish rhyming wit.

They only shine - where others shit.

There are currently 3 main groups of UK Motorway service station operators (The 86 sites are owned and leased by the Ministry of Transport).

Moto - 43 stations , 6,000 staff - purchased by a consortium led by Australian Macquarie Bank Group on 10 April 2006 from the Compass Group for an aggregate consideration of £1,822 million on a debt and cash free basis.

Welcome Break - 28 stations - purchased by the Appia group from Investcorp in March 2008 for £500Mn. Appia Investments Limited is a consortium of experienced infrastructure investors, including: • NIBC European Infrastructure Fund I C.V. ( Dutch Merchant Bank - c.53% shareholding) • ING European Infrastructure Fund (Dutch Insurance conglomerate - c.29% shareholding) • Challenger Life No 2 Limited (Australian Insurance company - c.14% shareholding)

Road Chef - 19 sites plus 15 Premier Inns total 792 acres - Acquired by Nikko Europe Plc (Japanese Finance house) in 1998 for £240 million. Nikko sold RoadChef to Israel based Delek Belron International (75% owned personally by 75 percent owned by Delek Belron personally) , a unit of Delek Real Estate (DLKR.TA) for £375 Mn on April 1st 2007 (£216 Mn for debt)

UK companies , Westmoreland owns Tebay, First owns 2 sites , Cairn Lodge one and Poplar 2000 a large truckstop at J20 on the M6 (rave reviews) .

So over 90% of the UK Motorway services is owned by overseas based companies.

Useful sites Motorway Trivia , and for a serious engineering history of the Preston by-pass the Motorway Archive .

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