1959 saw the opening of Britain’s first Motorway Service Area at Watford Gap on the M1. From the beginning, British service areas were not allowed to serve any alcohol, a restriction that has continued to the present day. That’s not something I can get particularly worked up about, although it must be said that many Continental service areas sell alcoholic drinks without turning the roads into scenes of drunken carnage, and being forced to be “dry” undoubtedly contributes to the image of service areas as downmarket, distress purchase outlets.
However, in recent years a growing number of budget hotels or “lodges” have opened alongside service areas, which have been required to abide by the same restriction, something reinforced by the most recent Highways Agency policy document. Surely it is unreasonable to prevent them offering an evenings-only licensed restaurant and bar for residents, when this is no more likely to encourage drink-drive offending than the fact that virtually all similar hotels not on the motorway network, and often catering for a very similar clientele, are allowed to sell alcohol. Indeed, the absence of bar facilities may even have the unintended consequence of making offending more likely by encouraging customers to get in their cars in search of somewhere to get a drink.