Verdict nears on fate of Sheffield woods

Aerial view of Smithy Wood
Aerial view of Smithy Wood
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A recommendation on whether a Sheffield wood should be declared a village green is due in just weeks’ time - shortly before a verdict is expected on plans to build a £40 million motorway services on the same site.

Earlier this year a public inquiry was held over an application to designate Smithy Wood, near Chapeltown, as a green, a measure campaigners said would protect the land from damage by 4x4s and motorbikes.

Since the hearings finished, the inspector for the inquiry has been preparing a report which is due before a Sheffield Council licensing committee meeting within the next two months.

The committee has the final say on the village green bid.

Meanwhile developers Extra Motorway Service Area want permission to build a new stop at junction 35 of the M1.

The services would cover 20 acres beside Smithy Wood, to the south-west of the junction, featuring a petrol station, shops, food court, 80-bedroom hotel and parking for more than 600 vehicles.

Currently the proposals - lodged in 2013 - are set to go to a planning committee meeting in October.

The application has proved controversial. Campaigners say irreplaceable wildlife habitats will be lost, and the cause has been picked up by the Wildlife and Woodland Trusts.

Scores of people from across the UK have also objected. It is seen as a test case for the principal of ‘biodiversity offsetting’ - where a developer pledges to plant trees elsewhere as a compensatory gesture.

Protesters hope the service station plan will be put in jeopardy if the wood - said to date back to the 12th century - is declared a village green.

But Jean Howe, chair of Cowley Residents’ Action Group, said the delays were ‘worrying’.

“It seems they are just trying to find answers to all of the things people have said is wrong with it,” she said.

“It’s taking such a long time, but I’m just hoping they run out of steam.

“We’ve tried very hard to stop an 800-year-old woodland from being wrecked.”

To become a village green, it will need to be proved that a significant number of local people have been able to use the land without permission for at least 20 years.