Controversial service station ruling delayed again

Campaigners outside the Town Hall in Sheffield
Campaigners outside the Town Hall in Sheffield

A long-delayed decision on the potential building of a controversial new motorway service station on ancient woodland has been postponed again.

Sheffield Council was due to publish a report into £46m Extra service station for the M1 at Smithy Wood, near Chapeltown, on Tuesday, with a view to councillors making a decision on the application at a planning meeting on March 28.

The firm first submitted its plans - including hotel, petrol station and parking - in March 2014, saying the development was needed to improve road safety by providing a rest stop.

A decision has been delayed repeatedly, with hundreds of objections from people concerned about the loss of part of Smithy Wood, which is classed as ancient woodland - although there has also been support, with Ecclesfield Parish Council among those in favour.

The three-year wait was due to come to an end at a special meeting on March 28, but campaigners opposing the plans, who gathered at a peaceful protest outside the Town Hall on Saturday, were told that a decision had been delayed again.

Liz Ballard, chief executive of the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, told the crowd that a new date for the decision to be made had not yet been set.

More than 100 people gathered for the protest, which also heard from Oliver Newham, senior campaigner at the Woodland Trust, Jean Howe, of Cowley Residents Action Group, Angela Smith, MP for Penistone and Barnsley and local councillor Steve Wilson.

Mr Newham was the prospect of ancient woodland been 'concreted over' to make way for a service station was 'appalling' and 'hugely, hugely unnecessary.'

Mrs Howe, who was praised for her tireless work against the plans along with conservation and wildlife groups, told the crowd that there was already enough provision in the area.

She said: "There are facilities at Meadowhall and at junction 35A. At junction 36 they are developing with a hotel, service station and eateries. Why do we need one where they have to knock ancient woodland down?"

She also highlighted plans by Applegreen PLC to building a service station at junction 33, at Catcliffe - just 10 miles away - as a 'better alternative.'

Ms Smith pledged to fight the Smithy Wood plan 'every step of the way' and welcomed the delay in the publication of the council report.

She said Tuesday is World Forestry Day and is when the Environment Select Committee publishes its report on forestry, which will contain recommendations on how to protect ancient woodland.

"Thank goodness that report has been delayed," she said.

She added: "People in the north of Sheffield value our woodland. They know how precious our woodlands are and they know how lucky they are to live in a city as green and as beautiful and so wonderfully covered with the reminiscence of our ancient woodland as Sheffield.

"We need to love it, we need to protect it and we need to stop Extra from building this service station."

Extra argue that particular stretch of the motorway does not meet Government safety requirements for a rest area every 28 miles.

The company says this proves a 'special need' for its development, which outweighs the rules on protecting the green belt and ancient woodland.

A key aspect of the firm's argument to councillors is that there are no other suitable sites that would address the 28-mile gap without a service station.