New Applegreen Service Area M42 Junction 4, near Shirley

Our proposals for a new Motorway Service Area at Junction 4 of the M42

The Key Facts

You may be aware that Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council will shortly be making a decision on Applegreen’s planning application (PL/2016/02754/MAJFOT) relating to proposals for a new Motorway Service Area (MSA)at Junction 4 of the M42, near Shirley.

We are making this application in response to the Secretary of State for Transport’s recommendation for a new Motorway Service Area (MSA) to be developed between Junctions 3a and 7 of the M42. A new MSA is needed to deal with the current long and unsafe gaps between the nearest other MSAs on the region’s motorway network. 

Our team has researched all the possible options to safely locate a new MSA site along this stretch of motorway. Although the entire length of this section of motorway is in Greenbelt, the site at Shirley is the most suitable that would fulfil the need for improving highway safety on the M42 whilst minimising the impact on the environment. 

We hope that Solihull will make the right choice. Our proposal reduces the current gaps between MSAs to 30 miles or less, as well as fully funding improvements to future proof the capacity of Junction 4 and surrounding local roads.  To reduce the environmental impact, our solution is a compact design of about 12 hectares which will still meet all the facilities an MSA should provide including full future proofing for electric vehicle charging. The MSA layout and design is sculpted to fit into the low-lying land nearest the M42, with local wildlife habitats and public paths protected and enhanced, to generate a more sustainable use of land currently designated unsuitable for intensive farming.

Our site does not require a large footprint in Greenbelt for a new junction on the M42, it does not require any compromise in road safety design standards to fit in between existing junctions and it has no impact on the proposed new publicly funded Airport link at Junction 6. It does not require the destruction of any Ancient Woodland or have any material impact on local flood plains, heritage assets or high-quality farm land. 

As an important decision is to be made, not only on our proposals, but also on alternative scheme submitted on a footprint of about 62 hectares with a new dedicated junction between junctions 5 and 6 (PL/2015/51409/ PPOL), near Catherine de Barnes, we feel it is important to communicate the key facts relating to our scheme and its benefits. 

We are committed to delivering on our promises and aim for Shirley Services to set new standards for customer provision and operational quality.

Eugene Moore
Chief Development Director, Applegreen plc

We have the best site

  • Situated at Junction 4 on the M42 about one mile from Dorridge and Bentley Heath.
  • Our site closes 13 current gaps between existing MSAs to give a motorist the opportunity to stop at least every 30 miles or less.
  • A sustainable, environmentally friendly design with a small footprint delivering all the facilities needed.
  • Road and junction improvements protect and enhance the future capacity of Junction 4.

Alternative Site

  • There is another proposal for an MSA also being promoted between junctions 5 and 6 of the M42, about a quarter of a mile from the village of Catherine de Barnes.
  • This also closes the same number of gaps to 30 miles or less.  
  • The planning application boundary for this MSA proposal covers about 62 hectares of Greenbelt, which equates to over five times the area of our site.
  • The alternative scheme proposes to introduce a new junction between J5 and J6, on the M42, which as submitted, is designed to only serve MSA traffic.
  • As you are probably aware Highways England have now formally commenced a Development Consent Order (DCO) process to develop a new publicly funded junction in the same location. This public project is to support economic growth and provide a new link road for Birmingham International Airport. If the other MSA is permitted it will eventually need to connect to the new Highways England junction instead of providing its own junction and will materially compromise the public project objectives on many levels. It will undoubtedly increase traffic flows in the Airport Link junction and use up junction capacity which would restrict further economic growth.
  • The other MSA proposal requires the destruction of irreplaceable ancient woodland and high-quality farm land and materially impacts on local flood plains.
  • The full impact of the alternative MSA on the new public project are just not known at this early stage.
  • The Highways England project will inevitability dictate the timing of the alternative MSA and ultimately whether the alternative MSA proposal is deliverable at all.

We will protect the environment

  • Our innovative high-quality design blends in to the natural landscape.
  • There is no loss of Ancient Woodland, conservation areas or any heritage assets on our site
  • We will plant new trees and hedgerows.
  • We will provide better public access to the countryside via a new public footpath, including new links to Dorridge and Bentley Heath.
  • We are using 12 hectares of Grade 3 land, which is not suitable for intensive farming uses.
  • We are creating and protecting new wildlife habitats that do not pose a risk to nearby airports
  • There is no loss of habitats to accommodate flood mitigation works.

Alternative

  • The alternative site requires the destruction of Ancient Woodland, plus almost five hectares of Best and Most Versatile (Grade 2 and 3a) agricultural land.
  • Woodland Trust oppose the alternative scheme, who describe Ancient Woodland as, “an irreplaceable resource that has taken centuries to develop into a unique and precious habitat for much of the UK’s more important and threatened species. It cannot be re-created and cannot afford to be lost”.
  • Solihull MBC’s own ecologist also objects to the removal of Aspbury Copse to facilitate the alternative site’s flood mitigation scheme and considers it unjustifiable and ‘irreplaceable’ and against national policy (Keepers of Time – a Statement of Policy for England’s Native Woodlands).
  • Birmingham Airport has expressed concerns of the alternative site’s natural areas attracting geese to the area, which are a hazard for air traffic.

We WILL IMPROVE LOCAL ROADS

  • Our proposals follow best practice as set out in the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB), which means we do not need to compromise on highway safety to deliver our MSA.
  • We propose to widen and improve on some shortfalls in the existing slip roads for Junction 4, add a new lane on the roundabout to future proof traffic capacity, provide a new footbridge over the M42, and create a new wider access junction from Gate Lane onto the A3400.
  • Our privately funded solution will improve current traffic flows on Junction 4 and the surrounding local highway network, even when our MSA is fully operational and even when Blythe Valley Park and the Fore Business Park developments are fully implemented.
  • Highways England consider ‘online’ sites (with their own dedicated junction and no local access) to be better for motorists as the restricted access would usually restrict local traffic use. In this case the main negative impact of an ‘online’ scheme is the large increase in land required from Greenbelt to build a new junction.  
  • On balance we believe a smaller footprint ‘offline’ site at junction 4 is unlikely to attract local traffic given the ample local service facilities at Tesco and the many other local traders in the surrounding area.

Alternative

  • The alternative scheme requires at least four ‘departures’ in best practice design standards from Highways England Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB).
  • These include much shorter weaving distances between the new MSA junction and the existing Junction 6 where traffic would criss-cross three or four lanes to enter or leave the motorway. Highway England’s DMRB stipulates a minimum safe separation of two kilometers is required but the alternative proposal can only accommodate about half of this required safe weaving zone between junctions.
  • Some time ago Highways England said of the alternative MSA  ‘...the risks associated with the proposed weaving length between the M42 MSA northbound merge and junction 6 diverge are likely to be tolerable when the residual safety risk arising from this issue is considered against wider safety benefits of the scheme…’.
  • At the time this opinion was given, Highways England did not know we had a viable alternative MSA scheme that could offer the same ‘…wider safety benefits...’without the need to ‘…tolerate…’ any ‘…residual safety risk….’
  • If permitted, the alternative MSA will place an additional traffic burden on the new Airport Link junction, which has not been factored or fully designed into the public project and has the potential to overload the new public junction. This would have a direct impact on the primary purpose of these public funded junction improvements, which is to support regional economic growth for important infrastructure projects such as HS2, the Airport and the Hub.
  • Whether the alternative MSA and its junction comes before or after the new ‘free’ junction via the Highways England project, the net effect of adding an MSA at this location is that it will become an ‘offline’ site with direct local traffic access to and from Catherine de Barnes and the Airport. In other words, the alternative MSA will lose its current theoretical ‘online’ status and end up with the same type of access arrangement as our proposal.
  • At this early stage, the Highways England project team have not published details of their assessment of the traffic or environmental impacts of a new MSA being added to the Airport link junction scheme and yet Councilors are being asked to consider a planning application without being fully informed.

WE WILL BOOST THE LOCAL ECONOMY, NOT BURDEN IT

  • Our MSA would represent an investment of circa £40 million.
  • We will create more than 300 new full-time jobs including management, catering, facilities management and maintenance and about 400 jobs during construction.
  • We are a hands-on operator and employ staff directly, which means we take care of our people and ensure they have great career paths at all levels.
  • We are committed to supply chains that boost local business opportunities.
  • Our MSA is privately funded, deliverable now and does not impact on any public projects.
  • We compliment other privately funded economic regeneration developments in our neighbourhood like Blythe Valley Park and Fore Business Park.

Alternative

  • The alternative, if using Highways England’s junction, would jeopardise the junction capacity which is meant to support further economic growth in the region.
  • Highways England’s modelling of traffic, in its DCO application, has not declared the extra capacity required to support an MSA at the junction, nor has it issued details of the additional departures away from best practice standards that would be required to insert new slips roads to the north of the new junction, needed for an MSA at this location, which would significantly reduce its effectiveness against its publicly funded purpose.
  • The alternative scheme has been the subject of a Westminster petition, organised by Caroline Spelman MP, who described their proposals as“unsustainable; not at least as a result of the threat it poses to road safety”.