AN “historical quirk” could see a controversial plan to build an expansive Motorway Service Area (MSA) over a designated Site of Importance for Nature Conservation approved.

Richmondshire District Council officers said while Leeming Bar and Scotch Corner Motorway Rest Areas (MRA) overlooking the A1(M) were both only several miles from Roadchef’s planned MSA at Catterick, as they had not been officially designated as an MSA they had to be discounted when considering whether there was a need for one.

The recommendation comes ahead of the authority’s planning committee meeting on Tuesday to consider the scheme to create a service station building, a 100-bedroom hotel, two drive thru restaurants, a fuel filling station, convenience shop and HGV overnight parking off junction 52.

Overall, the proposed development would create 8,912 square metres of restaurant and cafe floorspace. In comparison, Tesco Superstore in Catterick Garrison has floorspace of 6,899 square metres.

Motorway Services Online states the three MRAs in the UK were a “historical quirk”, and other than a lack of HGV parking at Scotch Corner, both that site and Leeming Bar “offer significant facilities; enough to qualify as a full MSA and more than some other motorway services do”.

It states: “Rest area status therefore appears to being used with no apparent logic…”

Objecting to Roadchef’s plan, rival firm Moto has stated its Barton and Leeming Bar sites already have planning permission for the redevelopment into a full MSAs, while its Scotch Corner rest area also operates as a Trunk Road Service Area.

Another objector, Richmondshire Climate Action Partnership, said the developers had provided no tangible or compelling evidence that a new MSA was needed as “there are already many A1/A1(M) rest and refuelling stop facilities for southbound and northbound traffic.”

Nevertheless, planning officers have highlighted how The Department for Transport’s Circular 02/2013 states “MSAs and other road side facilities perform an important road safety function” and that Highways England had recommended MSAs should be a maximum of 28 miles apart.

In a report to the meeting, planning officers state there is an identified need for a new MSA facility to serve road users of the A1(M) between Durham and the approved MSA services near Boroughbridge.

It states: “Case law has established that considerable weight can be given in such instances to meeting this need because of the safety of users of the strategic road network.”

The Road Haulage Association has backed the plan, saying there is an urgent need for secure HGV facilities with amenities, and highlighted the ongoing concerns about overnight parking in residential areas of nearby Colburn.

The scheme has taken several years to reach committee stage due to concerns over flooding, non-motorised access for local workers and the acknowledged ecological harm it will cause at the 11-hectare former sand quarry beside Catterick Racecourse.

Catterick Parish Council has stated with some of the planned main building being “built on stilts” it remained worried if sufficient measures to control flooding had been put forward.

Meanwhile, the North Yorkshire Local Access Forum has raised “major concerns” over “the lack of safe arrangements for access to the development site for non-motorised users”.

Both Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Natural England have concluded there will be an overall loss of habitat at the site, at Swale Lakes Site of Special Scientific Interest and significant impact on birds.