A Better Place

Apparently you can travel out to the former Granada Services on the M5 - or GOTO MOTO, as those of us in the know say, since Granada has changed its name - and have a gamble. I bet not many of you knew that. Ladbroke's have a temporary shop out there, and they say they're "providing a service for the travelling public", so they've applied to make it permanent. Their communications director, Nick Young, says it's a hit "with HGV drivers, which is a key part of our customer base".

I wish he wouldn't put it like that. He really means to tell us that there are lorry-loads of bets going up the M5. Not so much road-ragers as road-wagers, or nutters on flutters. What do they do with the accelerator pedals when there's a winner in the offing at Sandown? Or worse, a loser? (Incidentally, isn't Ladbroke a strange name for a turf accountant? Shouldn't that be Ladflush?)

Nevertheless, since the M5 is part of our cultural heritage, rather overlooked, it seems to me, by Land Securities and Devon Council - who could call it Princessway and start some serious arguments - it does start to make me think that there are other possibilities.

The city centre is crowded. Man In The High Street can hardly get his column along it any more. What we need is a bit of free space, rather more than we'll get if they just shift the post office about. Where better to start than at the MOTO services, so handy for out-of-town supermarkets? We could have a Park And Ride Scheme in the city centre, so that people could go out to the M5, and leave the streets clean and tidy.

But a betting shop is kids' stuff. If we are seriously going to develop Exeter as the coming thing, and attract not only the Met Office but the BBC, the Houses of Parliament, and the Edinburgh Festival down here, we need to give them all a bit of a better welcome. All you get at present is a few sets of traffic lights, a rather attractive concrete bridge (credit where it's due), some roundabouts, and a chance to back a few horses. (I hope it's horses. Perhaps it's cars).

I'm a traditionalist. This is a traditional county. This is no slicker city for city slickers. It's the Heart of the West Country, the Capital to cap it all. So let's spruce up the approach roads.

As you approach Junction 30, a troupe of Morris dancers - or possibly their youth branch, the Morris Minor dancers - could parade along the hard shoulder, which we could re-name the soft shoulder, clicking their sticks, and jingling their trousers.

Every day, a crack team of sheep, a flock among flocks, could parade along the slow lane (not the fast lane, don't be silly, that might be dangerous), giving drivers that warming glow they get when they drive along Devon country roads. Many's the time I've been stuck behind some sheep on Devon roads, and have rejoiced at the prospect of a long wait. If you've been doing a steady seventy, it will do your heart good to see some woolly wild life. It's the reason we live longer down here. They'd have to be ewes, of course, or we might encourage ram-raiders.

Cheered by the pedigree baaing, drivers could then be invited out of their cars, and given a slap-up, clotted cream tea, and an invitation to visit the underground passages in Princesshay, or the overground passages in County Hall (some indoor privet could transform it into an attractive maze. It's called privet enterprise).

Scantily-clad traffic wardens, wearing only floral tickets, could give a giant-screen video presentation of the residents' parking initiative, while the Lady Mayoress could lead some community singing. Mobs of scruffians could be diverted from their pastime of running amok after football matches, and paid to wash the cars in pure Devon foam.

The Beast of Dartmoor could be brought down to MOTO, too, and allowed to lie on the visitors' bonnets. There could be a re-enactment of the history of Heavitree, and a free "taster" of the sea-side, with sandcastle competitions for car-drivers and motor-bikers, and fruit machines for the HGV heavies, just to whet their appetite before going on to form a strong customer base in the bookie's.

In fact, a sluice could be built on the way to the junction itself, possibly with a wave machine. It would be just like being at the coast before you got there - how many holidays have you had where you were the first to see the sea? Some people would be first, twice .

Greening the approach roads to Exeter - astroturf, I suppose, although it might not be completely realistic - would also give our visitors a welcome impression of our eco-system. Perhaps another Eden project dome could be erected over the whole of the MOTO services area as well as the motorway itself. People would write a postcard before they'd even got to Exeter, thereby doubling our valuable picture postcard trade.

And let's not forget the canal, which passes right under the M5. How expensive would it really be to hire a car ferry to let visitors finish their comfort in style? A new slip road would be all it took, and soon our happy travellers would be alighting at the Quay, just in the right mood to snap some bargain antiques.

Finally, we would need to put some shops in, in addition to the betting shop, that is. Apparently, there is some danger that people might wish to shop in Plymouth or Taunton or Bristol if we don't get our act together. And that's what people find unique about Exeter - its shops. Where else could you find Monsoon, Gap, Next, Dixon's, Waterstone's, Virgin, Top Shop, Costa, and all those other brilliantly ethnic Exeter shops?

Get them out on the M5, and the sooner the better.

Especially since the betters are already out there.

From Express and Echo