Public urged to back protest against services plans that will destroy ancient woodland

CAMPAIGNERS who are battling to save ancient woodland from being torn down to build £46 million motorway services are urging the public to back a protest just days before a decision is finally made on the plans.

Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust are desperate to block developer MSA Extra and  landowner St Paul’s building a new service area — including a fast food court, 80-bed hotel and car park — at junction 35 of the M1 just over the motorway from Thorpe Hesley.

The long-running dispute has been going on since 2013 but a final decision is due to be reached by Sheffield councillors on March 28.

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Ten days earlier, on March 18, protesters are appealing to nature lovers to attend a peaceful demonstration outside Sheffield Town Hall and lobby their local councillor to oppose the plans.

MSA Extra have insisted the new service area would improve safely as there was currently an unsafe distance between services on the M1, but campaigners say the development will destroy a much-loved walking spot which provides a home for nature.

Liz Ballard, chief executive of wildlife trust, said: “We really need the help of local people to save this woodland. 

“We are asking people to tell their local councillor that they want this woodland saved. 

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“We call on the planning committee councillors to see this application for what it is — an opportunist proposal that will bring significant profits to a few instead of a fantastic public green space for the many.

“Smithy Wood is over 800 years old and part of a unique network of ancient woodlands. “The wood is a key part of our rich, natural heritage and designated as a Local Wildlife Site in Sheffield’s green belt. 

“It is much-loved by local people, who have regularly visited the wood and supports hundreds of different species of birds, animals, plants and fungi.”

Campaigners said the proposed service area was six times the size of a typical motorway services.

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“This service station would be on one of the safest stretches of road in the region that is already well served by other local businesses,” said Ms Ballard.

“It would permanently destroy irreplaceable ancient woodland and diminish the green belt. 

“Government guidance is clear — ancient woodlands cannot be compensated for by new tree planting or woodland management elsewhere.

“Our vision for Smithy Wood is to turn it into a fantastic woodland — a community asset that is well-managed, secure, safe and easily accessible to local families, school groups, walkers and cyclists. 

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“This land has been left unsecured and uncared for, and, over the last two to three years in particular, local residents have noticed a major increase in use of the site by off-road vehicles. 

“Smithy Wood is a beautiful bluebell woodland in spring and we really hope this spring will not be the last before the bluebells are replaced by tarmac.”

Nearly 1,000 objections are thought to have been submitted online, with the vast majority citing the loss of wildlife habitat as their main reason for opposing the application.

MSA Extra said its development would “satisfy a road safety need along one of the UK’s busiest stretches of motorway”, create 400 jobs and involve the development of 600 acres of new and existing woodlands with a network of footpaths.

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The company said: “A rigorous assessment of potential alternative sites along the M1 and M18 corridors has been undertaken. 

“We are confident there are no alternative sites which are suitable and/or deliverable.

“This is the right project in the right location.”

The Town Hall protest will be held at 11.30am on Saturday, March 18.