The boss of a company planning to build a motorway service station in Sheffield’s green belt says the benefits outweigh the loss of “low quality” ancient woods.
Andrew Long accused protesters fighting to preserve Smithy Wood of “having the blinkers on”.
He added: “It’s clear they don’t want to understand there are different levels of quality. We have designed the site to take the poorest woodland and protect the best areas.
“It’s important to strike a balance between the level of harm and the package of benefits from the development.”
Extra Motorway Service Area Group wants to bulldoze 16 acres of 12th century woods and build ‘Sheffield Services’ at Junction 35 of the M1.
The £46 million development would create 300 jobs and includes a 50-year plan to merge four woods – Smith, Parkin, Hesley and Thorncliffe – and manage them as a 600-acre community woodland.
Some 60,000 trees would also be planted to offset the loss. The Woodland Trust, residents’ groups and Stocksbridge MP Angela Smith vehemently oppose the scheme saying of the 850-year-old site: “Once it’s gone it’s gone.”
Mr Long admitted an England without any ancient woods would be “unacceptable,” but stating how much should be left “was an impossible question” and decisions had to be made case by case.
He added: “The Woodland Trust have the blinkers on saying ‘no’ to development regardless of the quality of the wood and the benefit. They don’t appear to us to represent most people in North East Sheffield.
“I think it’s wrong to see the woods as a sticking point, focusing on the views of a small minority – it’s also essential to focus on those who want it to proceed. It’s about striking a balance. How can you have economic growth if you don’t allow any kind of development?”
The project is being funded by a US public sector pension scheme, which he refused to name, saying its was policy was to remain anonymous. But it was fully aware and supportive of the plan, he added.
“This is a real proposal for a £46m investment up-front.”
The stop is set to include filling stations, shops, a food court, an 80-bedroom hotel and car park with space for 639 vehicles.
Extra MSA owns 18 service stations and since 1992 has had nine successful planning applications. Two more have been refused.
Mr Long, a Sheffield Hallam graduate who lives in Lincolnshire, said Smithy Wood was not the most controversial scheme he had been involved in. Separately, protesters have applied for the woods to be designated a ‘village green’, based on longstanding public use, to halt development.
But Long said he was “100 per cent” confident it would fail because it did not meet the criteria.