Councillors will this month consider plans for a £46 million service station on green belt land on the edge of Sheffield.
Extra Motorway Service Area Group wants to build the service station - including a hotel, petrol station and parking - on a site off junction 35 of the M1, near Chapeltown.
The firm first submitted its plans 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.
But the three-year wait will come to an end at a special meeting on Tuesday, March 28, when members of the city council's planning committee will finally consider the application.
A recommendation from planning officers on whether or not to approve the service station is likely to be published on the council's website the week before the meeting. The application is outline, so even if it was approved a more detailed application would need to be passed before construction could start.
The key argument against the service station is the loss of green belt land - and in particular the section of Smithy Wood that would be paved over.
Any applicant must prove a special need for a development in order to build in the green belt.
Campaigners argue that need can be met in other areas. But Extra says there are no suitable spots within the Government's required 30 minute travelling distance.
Chief executive Andrew Long said: “We have carried out extensive investigations and analysis in preparing these proposals. We are confident in the quality of our planning application and that every issue has been considered carefully.”
“Motorway service areas (MSAs) play an important role in improving road safety and driver welfare. Successive and the current Government have provided clear criteria on where MSAs should be located; where there is a gap between existing MSAs of more than 28 miles, or up to 30 minutes driving time.
"On this section of the Motorway Network there are three gaps, resulting in a road safety need, which can be addressed with a single new MSA facility in the Sheffield area."
Mr Long said all junctions and potential sites around Sheffield had been considered, but only junction 35 could safely accommodate a service station.
And he promised Extra would put money into improving nearby woodland to make up for the loss of part of Smithy Wood.
“We are committed to making a £46 million ‘up-front’ investment into Sheffield," Mr Long said.
"Working alongside organisations including The Sheffield College, Job Centre Plus and Chamber of Commerce, we plan to create hundreds of jobs, training opportunities and apprenticeships.
“Sheffield Services will also unlock £20 million of funding to help create and maintain the Chapeltown Community Woodlands.
"We want to boost Sheffield’s reputation as The Outdoor City, encouraging healthier lifestyles by making this substantial long-term investment in the surrounding green spaces.”
One of the most vocal objectors to Extra's plan has been the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, which is planning a peaceful protest outside the Town Hall on Saturday, March 18 at 11.30am.
The trust has called on Sheffield people to write to councillors if they have concerns about the service station.
CEO Liz Ballard said: "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.
"If ever there was a time to show our ‘outdoor city’ credentials this is it.”
The trust points to the 800-year history of Smithy Wood, which is part of a 'unique network of ancient woodlands' and a 'key part of Sheffield’s rich, natural heritage and designated as a Local Wildlife Site in Sheffield’s green belt'.
It also questions Extra's insistence that there is a need for a service station on that stretch of the M1.
Ms Ballard said: “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.
"We firmly believe that with the council’s help we could make this happen."
The land is owned by St Paul's Developments, which also owns a neighbouring business park on the site of the former Smithy Wood colliery and coking plant, where it is based. Residents say the wood has been spoiled by people driving off-road vehicles and littering.
Ms Ballard said: "The poor environmental stewardship of this land is plain to see. The 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.
"This all benefits the developer. 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.”
Smithy Wood in Numbers
March 2014 - date plans were first submitted
10.76 hectares - size of overall site
80 - number of beds in proposed hotel
522 - number of car parking spaces
30 - minutes Government sets as maximum time between service stations
£46m - 'up-front' investment from Extra
£20m - money set aside for 'community woodland'
800 - age of ancient Smithy Wood
700 - total job creation including construction
£1m - potential yearly business rate income for Sheffield Council
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