Inspector’s verdict on Sheffield woods prevails

Woodland Trust, Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust and community campaigners are warning proposals to build a service station on ancient woodland at Smithy Wood off Junc 35 of the M1 could pave the way for destruction across Yorkshire. Picture Scott Merrylees SM1002/70c
Woodland Trust, Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust and community campaigners are warning proposals to build a service station on ancient woodland at Smithy Wood off Junc 35 of the M1 could pave the way for destruction across Yorkshire. Picture Scott Merrylees SM1002/70c
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Campaigners against plans to build a £40 million service station on ancient woodland in Sheffield have vowed to switch their focus to fighting the scheme’s planning application - after a bid to declare the site a village green failed.

Councillors this week followed the recommendation of an official inspector who led a public inquiry earlier this year by refusing to grant Smithy Wood, at Chapeltown, village green status.

The Cowley Residents’ Action Group submitted the application after the wood was earmarked as the site for the huge services, at junction 35 of the M1.

But in his report to licensing committee members the inspector, London barrister Richard Ground, said Smithy Wood did not meet the necessary criteria for a green.

To succeed, it needed to proved that the land had been used by a significant number of local people, without permission, for at least 20 years.

Resident Dr Christina Perring, who lives on Cowley Lane, called the decision a ‘tragedy’.

She said: “We’re as devastated as the woodland is going to be.”

Mr Ground said the use of the woods was ‘trivial’ and ‘sporadic’.

He wrote in his report: “There was insufficient use to indicate the land was in general use by the local community for informal recreation rather than occasional use by individuals as trespassers.”

But campaigners disputed the findings and said they have enjoyed walking, bird-watching, playing and bike riding on the land for generations.

Dr Perring said she picked blackberries on walks in Smithy Wood twice a week, and that the inspector ‘didn’t have a heartfelt love of nature’.

Jean Howe, chair of the action group, said the sole option was to mount a judicial review.

“It will cost tens of thousands of pounds and we don’t have that sort of money. We’re a local group.”

She said protesters will now concentrate on fighting the planning application for the service station. A decision is due next year. She claimed the landowners were hoping to make a profit from the land, which will be used to build an 80-room hotel, food court and filling station.

Andrew Long, of applicant Extra Motorway Services, said: “There is a clear, road safety-related need for a service station in this area.”