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Which is the busiest or biggest service area?

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Inside Cobham, Britain's biggest.

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The biggest motorway service area in the UK (or Ireland) is Cobham on the M25. It stretches across two floors and only opened in 2012, filling a large gap on a very busy section of motorway. Its 36-pump petrol station is one of the biggest in Britain.

As motorway services are private businesses, they do not release details of how busy they are. A rudimentary analysis of social media suggests Cobham is talked about the most. This would tally with our own website analytics, which show that Cobham is searched for the most. We already know it's the biggest, so it's a logical conclusion that it would be the busiest as well.

In fact as part of their justification for building Colne Valley services, in June 2021 Welcome Break (who provide some facilities at Cobham) stated unequivocally that Cobham is the UK's busiest service area.

Before Cobham opened, other services around it are likely to have been among the busiest, such as Fleet, South Mimms and Toddington. Norton Canes is large and profitable as well.

Busiest Day

In addition to the biggest and the busiest service area, you could also ask about the busiest single day.

Unsurprisingly there is no official record or way to compare different operators. However, a reasonable guess for the UK would be 31 August 2021.

The summer is the busiest season for leisure traffic, and the August Bank Holiday is usually where that peaks. August 2021 was especially busy because the recent relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions meant there were many people who would normally go abroad in August, or who would normally go on holiday earlier in the year, but decided to take a holiday in Britain over that weekend instead.

Roadchef said that the August Bank Holiday was "without question, one of the busiest weekends in our trading history". They said the trade at Killington Lake and Taunton Deane was "record breaking", and named Strensham as their busiest single site. Other service areas on the M5 are likely to have a similar story. Across 30 sites and three days Roadchef reported selling 200,000 burgers and 230,000 hot drinks.

The exact results will vary depending on whether you are looking at footfall, profit, turnover or traffic levels; whether you're analysing a whole day or a specific hour; and whether you're looking at one site or the whole country. As a general rule, you're unlikely to see a combination of factors leading to a weekend as busy as that Bank Holiday for a long time.

See also: Smallest