England’s first motorway pub: has it affected safety?
A pub that is arguably Britain’s most controversial in recent times has officially opened its doors, causing outrage amongst many of the country’s focus and safety groups, and sparking intense debate.
The Hope and Champion, owned and operated by the JD Wetherspoon chain, has generated a lot of criticism due to its location at a motorway service station. The pub is open seven days a week, from 4am to 1am, and licensed to sell alcohol from 9am.
For road safety campaigners, it raises further questions at a time when issues affecting today’s drivers are under the microscope like never before. A recent blog posted on the website of the Jennings Motor Group discussed the falling quality of roads in the UK – a serious situation that shouldn’t be overlooked amid the widespread media coverage of a single motorway pub.
Let’s explore the moral maze surrounding the chain’s new venture.
Opposition to the pub has been substantial. In an article in the Independent, Sir Ian Gilmore, Royal College of Physicians special adviser on alcohol (as well as being chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance) noted that he was “disappointed” by the news of the pub opening, saying that it sent out “completely the wrong message” in the battle to reduce alcohol-influenced traffic accidents.
Ellie Pearson, a representative of road safety campaign Brake, commented that “the opening of a pub on a motorway is deeply concerning” and that the pub represented a “potential deadly temptation to drivers”. Director of the RAC Foundation, Professor Stephen Glaister, also questioned the decision, observing that “whilst the majority of motorists are sensible and safe”, the message being sent by ministers could well be considered ‘”take a break and have a pint”.
Figures released by the Association of Chief Police Officers revealed that drink drive arrests over the Christmas and New Year period were down compared to 2012. In total, 6,550 people were arrested, 573 fewer than the same one-month period the year before.
The figures also revealed that there were more breath tests conducted in that time – 191,040 in 2013 against 175,831 in 2012.
The pub fights back
The chain themselves have already tried to counter a lot of the criticism received, noting that the pub will serve the local area as much as motorists, located as it is near Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire. The pub’s manager, Steve Baldwin, told the Independent that the Extra Motorway Service Area in which the pub was built primarily served the motorway users, but the facilities were also available to the local road network community.
A spokesperson for JD Wetherspoon insisted they were not “naive” and recognised that offering drivers the chance to enjoy a pint on the motorway was “unusual”. However, they observed that they expected responsibility from drivers and that this was not a nanny state.
The story doesn’t necessarily look like it will stop here, either, with the founder and chairman of Wetherspoon, Tim Martin, suggesting the Hope and Champion could be the first of many pubs from the chain launching near motorways.
It’s obvious the chain holds no concerns about the potential dangers of such a pub opening, though it should be pointed out Wetherspoon has been keen to promote drink drive awareness within the bar itself, and that it has made soft drinks significantly cheaper than in its other pubs in order to make them more appealing to visitors.
Ultimately, the onus will be on driver responsibility, and there’s no doubt the situation will be monitored closely in the coming months.