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History of Donington services

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Donington Park 2006 brands.jpg
Thorntons, Scoop, Little Chef and Fresh Express among the brands visible in 2006.

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Opened by Granada as Donington Park 1999
Re-branded Moto 2001
Renamed Donington 2016

Donington opened during an era where service areas were working hard on their appearance, and that is probably a factor in why it was originally named "Donington Park". The racetrack with the same name is close by, but suffixes like '-Park' were very common at service areas everywhere when Donington was built.

When the road signs were changed in 2016, the 'Park' suffix was officially removed. The purpose of the name change isn't entirely clear, and it may be something as mundane as wanting the sign to be cheaper to make. Moto themselves tend to still call it Donington Park, and as they run it, their word should be final - but the road signs disagree and the signs are supposed to be rooted in a legal agreement.


See also: M1 Service Area Planning

When the M1 was built, arrangements were made for a service area to be built slightly south of here, at Long Whatton. That was never taken forward, but commercial developers took an interest in the road in the 1990s.

The land at Donington was identified by Hallam Land Management, who developed the initial plans. They had to compete with two service areas proposed by Extra, which would have been built on the M1 further south of here.

The public inquiry described the access to the proposed Donington Park services as "complicated and confusing", however the competing plans were considered to have "serious disadvantages". The fact that Donington Park could also serve the A42 was seen as a major selling point.

At the time, the Highways Agency was looking at replacing M1 J23A and J24 with one new interchange, which was seen as rendering the navigation argument redundant in the long term. In the short term, the roundabout at J24 was widened to handle the additional traffic that would be making the long drive along the A453.

In addition, this part of the A453 was totally undeveloped at the time, so the inquiry considered that it was an easy drive with no obstructions between the two junctions. Even so, the lay-bys along that road quickly became popular with people who had given up trying to find the service area, and that was before all the additional traffic lights were built.

Mobil were said to be interested in purchasing the site from Hallam, but after planning permission was awarded at a public inquiry, it was Granada who purchased it. Some Granada internal documents called it Kegworth services, but it opened as 'Donington Park'.

The Eastern Site

In 1989, before the A42 or Finger Farm Roundabout had been built, East Midlands Airport planned a much smaller service area next door. It would have had a petrol station close to the new roundabout, HGV parking in the middle, and a small restaurant building behind this.

Planning permission was granted, and the fact this land was already going to be developed was one of the arguments used in favour of the Hallam Land site being granted permission. No progress was made with the airport site, but just before the planning permission was about to expire in 1995, the Airport carried out some minor work to the drainage here.

There are differing reports on why they couldn't continue. When they finally did get back to work on it in 2004 (after the main Donington Park services had already opened), North West Leicestershire District Council disputed the airport's version of events and argued that their planning permission had expired.

An application to continue the development was refused in 2004, and again in 2009, with an appeal and public inquiry held in 2011. The parish councils and Moto objected to these applications, while the Highways Agency advised that the land was likely to be needed for a planned road upgrade. Permission was granted but not used. Curiously, that permission called it a "motorway service area", even though Circular 01/2008 wouldn't have allowed one motorway service area to be built opposite an existing one.

The land was sold and is now thought to be the planned site of new offices.

Building Design

Drawing of people sitting outside a Tie Rack shop.
The artist's impression of the building, showing the elevated hotel walkways on the right, and the village-styled hotel rooms on the left.

The outline proposal showed a smaller building, with a visitor centre at the front, and a separate lodge.

The service area was the first to be built with a design that was compared to that of an airport terminal which, in a slightly modified way, is a concept still used by new service areas today. It was billed by Granada as "a village by the roadside", aiming to reflect the wide range of facilities which would appeal to commuters.

The design of the building was a natural evolution from Granada's work at Stafford, which stood out with its back garden, open dining area and a large back window. Donington was similar but had more windows and no corridors at all.

The architect was Broadway Malyan, while the interior was designed by BDG McColl. The aim was to have the shopping units arranged around a hub where people could relax, instead of having separate units joined by a long corridor, meaning Donington was one of the first purpose-built 'food courts'.

It's one of the only service stations where a hotel is fully built-in to the main building. Other service areas, like Stafford, have the hotel joined on to the main building, but Donington has the hotel built on top of it, which saved space and made the planning process easier. It also helped create the impression that the building is a 'village'.


"It's town by the roadside."
Granada leaflet, 1999.

An opening ceremony was held in 1999, hosted by TV presenter Charlie Dimmock, who was chosen because of her association with tree planting. Leaflets were issued promoting the new concept, which Granada called "a town by the roadside", referring not just to its size but also to the fact it was supposed to be a place people wanted to visit.

A considerable investment was made in the forecourt, as it was considered to be a good place to catch commuters, something Granada were keen to do. As a result, it has its own parking area, and inside there was originally Sketchley dry cleaning, a photo development service, groceries and a Fresh Express café, which explains why the shop still has such large windows. BDG McColl pushed for the forecourt to have strong Granada branding, and they also designed the main building, adding extra Granada banners to the interior.

Drawings ahead of its opening showed that on the right was Granada Shop, Tie Rack, Fresh Express and the G-Scape arcade. On the left was the Travelodge, Boots and the toilets. However, Donington Park was chosen to launch Scoop (as well as Fresh Express and G-Scape). It soon gained Knickerbox, Tandy Express, Thorntons (which lasted a lot longer than the rest), Sock Shop, Halfords and Early Learning Centre, and the Burger King was moved to the front unit.

The service area was the first motorway site to gain a Marks and Spencer store. At its time it was the smallest M&S in the world, but it was then extended and rebranded to M&S Simply Food. It was built where the Burger King was, and the Burger King was moved further back. A WHSmith store also opened here, replacing Birthdays and the Moto Shop.

Harvester Express.
The Harvester restaurant, pictured in 2017.

On 21 May 2013, a franchised Harvester restaurant opened on a trial basis. Moto had suggested it could become their main restaurant partner if it was successful. No more branches were opened and Moto instead looked at other restaurant options for the rest of their sites.

As with all motorway restaurants, the Harvester temporarily closed in March 2020. It was then announced that it wouldn't be reopening. The Costa was removed in summer 2021 and moved to the Harvester unit, making way for a new KFC, which opened in September 2020. The former dining area became a Costa lounge.

Moto opened their first internal West Cornwall Pasty Co unit here.

Other Developments

The Highways Agency had applied to build a regional control centre here in 2004, but it was refused.

On 25 April 2008 Greg James presented BBC Radio 1's Early Morning Breakfast Show (4-7am) live from the services.

Planning permission was granted for a Costa Drive Thru in June 2017. It would have been built at the back of the existing car park, with indoor and outdoor seating as well as a separate car park. A second set of plans were produced in December 2018, and also approved, which showed a drive thru kiosk only. A third proposal was approved in March 2019, which had the kiosk placed by the exit lane. The drive-thru eventually opened in 2021, being positioned at the back of the car park as a drive-thru kiosk only.

Donington joined a "fuel price drop" in July 2020, where Moto pledged to compete with local petrol stations. Moto introduced attended service to the petrol station in October 2020 - the first time it had been available on the motorway for many years. Donington later opted out of the fuel price trial.

The former Ladbrokes unit was replaced by a Pret A Manger store on 17 March 2022.

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