Geography Compass

Junction JD Wetherspoon: The Changing Space of Britain’s Motorways

by Jen Turner

By Alexj2002 (Own Work based on work by User:Erath) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The BBC announced today that JD Wetherspoon will open its first motorway pub at Extra services on the M40 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. After a successful application to the local council, the company has said the bar and restaurant will be licensed to serve alcohol between 08:00 and 01:00. The firm met with Thames Valley Police and South Bucks District Council to outline its plans and Wetherspoon said the application received “no representations”. It is anticipated the £2m development will create 50 jobs. Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said: “The company has always been innovative and this is an exciting new development for us. Hopefully it will be the first of many Wetherspoon’s on the motorway.” The pub is expected to be open by Christmas.

However, road safety charity Brake said as the firm was “putting temptation in front of drivers”, it should make its drink-drive warnings “extra clear”. A spokeswoman for Brake said: “The opening of a pub on the motorway could be of real concern unless safeguards are put in place with strong messages to warn about the dangers of drink-driving … it is putting temptation there in front of drivers. The charity says each month in Great Britain 23 people are killed and 108 people are seriously injured by drivers over the drink-drive limit.

Whether these actions are endorsed by the road safety charity or not, the opening of a public house at a motorway service station will no doubt change the way the space is utilised – perhaps becoming a destination for coach trips or those seeking a particular type of meal. This may not be disimilar to the appeal of the service station as a tourist space, when the first motorways (and their rest areas) opened in Britain.

A 2009 Geography Compass paper by Peter Merriman outlines some of the research which has been undertaken on the geographies and sociologies of the spaces and practices of driving, focusing in particular on the UK. Merriman notes that the motor car or automobile has had a profound impact on global mobility, settlement patterns, the global economy, and the environment. In this article, he examines how motor roads have shaped our experience of space and place, and outlines studies of their design, inhabitation, and regulation. Second, this article discusses embodied inhabitations of the spaces of the car: how motor cars have been consumed; how they have shaped our embodied apprehensions of our surroundings; and how they facilitate social and cultural relations. Finally, this article concludes by examining the innovative methods which are increasingly being utilised and developed by social scientists to explore the socialities of automotive spaces. The opening of JD Wetherspoon at a motorway service station is just one such example of how the motorcar and driving practices have become a concern to geographers and those studying the resonance of driving spaces.

books_iconPeter Merriman (2009) Automobility and the Geographies of the CarGeography Compass 3(2) 586-599.

60-world2JD Wetherspoon to open first motorway pub on M40, BBC News (online) 3 June 2013.

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