A bid to give ancient woodland in Sheffield ‘village green’ status is set to be rejected after a public inquiry.
Inspector Richard Ground has recommended the application for Smithy Wood, at Chapeltown, be turned down by a Sheffield Council licensing committee meeting next week on the basis it does not meet criteria.
Residents gave evidence to the inquiry in their attempt to prove the wood had been used by a significant number of people without permission for at least 20 years – one of the criteria needed to create a protected ‘village green’ status.
In his report to the licensing committee, London barrister Mr Ground said use of the wood was ‘trivial’ and ‘sporadic’.
He said: “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.”
The recommendation will be a blow to campaigners, who submitted their application after part of the woods were earmarked for a £40 million motorway service station, just off junction 35 of the M1.
Thousands of people have objected to the controversial scheme.
A second public consultation is to take place after applicant Extra submitted more information to the council.
The scheme still has to receive planning permission.
A decision by councillors was delayed until next year while Extra submitted a series of further ‘mitigation measures.’
In his report Mr Ground also said that the wood was ‘quite a distance’ from the nearby Cowley Estate, routes to the area were not ‘amazingly straightforward’ over the past two decades, and that Chapeltown Park offered ‘easy access’ for recreation.
“The number of people who have evidence of using the land directly is small,” he added.
“I do not accept that the totality of the use of Smithy Wood was very great.”
Mr Ground said the view that village green status could save the wood from development may - ‘whether consciously or subconsciously’ – have led to ‘some overstatement of the frequency and consistency of visits’.
Extra has long insisted that the service station is needed to meet a gap in provision.
Extra’s chief executive, Andrew Long, has also said the benefits of the scheme, which are set to include an 80-bedroom hotel, food court and filling station, outweigh the loss of ‘low-quality’ ancient woods.