Save Smithy Wood: hundreds demonstrate to save ancient woodland

Saturday 18th March 2017

Over 300 people gathered outside Sheffield Town Hall on Saturday 18 March to demonstrate their objection to the proposal to build a major motorway service area on Smithy Wood - a Local Wildlife Site and ancient woodland in Sheffield’s green belt - in a peaceful protest organised by Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust.

For the past four years Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust has been campaigning alongside local residents and other environmental groups to save Smithy Wood from a highly controversial proposal to build an 80-bed hotel, car park and fast food court.

The proposal was set to be considered by Sheffield City Council’s planning committee on 28 March, but has been delayed following news of another proposal to build a motorway service area at Junction 33 on the M1, a site designated for this type of development.

Speakers at today’s event included: Liz Ballard, CEO of Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust; Oliver Newham, Senior Campaigner at the Woodland Trust; Jean Howe, Chair of Cowley Residents Action Group; Angela Smith, MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge; and local councillor Steve Wilson.

It was an occasion for all with face painting for children and music from Sheffield Samba Band along with local singer Richard Kedward who performed Joni Mitchell’s 1970s hit Big Yellow Taxi.

Liz Ballard said: “In a few weeks’ time a beautiful carpet of native bluebells will start to reappear in Smithy Wood. Just today I saw two buzzards circling over the woodland - it really does support so much wildlife.

“Irreplaceable ancient woodland and local wildlife should be protected and not destroyed. Smithy Wood is not the place to build a motorway service area. The new proposal at Junction 33 by Applegreen, another motorway service area developer, clearly illustrates that MSA Extra’s argument that Smithy Wood is the only possible location for this development on this stretch of motorway is not true. This is an opportunistic application by MSA Extra to develop land that should continue to be protected as a local wildlife site for the benefit of local people.

“With the right management, Smithy Wood could be a fantastic woodland that benefits the community, local families, school groups, walkers and cyclists. We are calling on planning committee councillors to do the right thing and refuse this application, and we are asking local people to help ensure this happens by voicing their concerns and writing to their local councillor.”

Smithy Wood in Chapeltown is over 800 years old and part of a unique network of ancient woodlands. The wood is a key part of Sheffield’s rich, natural heritage and designated as a Local Wildlife Site in Sheffield’s green belt. It is much-loved by local people, who have regularly visited the wood and supports hundreds of different species of birds, animals, plants and fungi.

The developer, MSA Extra, and the land owner, St Paul’s, are applying to build a retail park six times the size of a typical motorway service station with fast food outlets, such as McDonalds and Starbucks, and an 80-bed hotel. This service station would be on one of the safest stretches of road in the region that is already well served by other local businesses. The development would permanently destroy irreplaceable ancient woodland and diminish the green belt. Government guidance is clear – ancient woodlands cannot be compensated for by new tree planting or woodland management elsewhere.

Sheffield City Council has received over 1,000 online objections to the proposals, with the vast majority citing the loss of this important habitat for local wildlife as their key reason for opposing the application.

We are calling on the public to continue to take action by contacting their local councillor to voice their concerns at this crucial stage. More information can be found on the Trust’s website at www.wildsheffield.com/smithywood