Protesters hoping to block plans for a motorway service station on the Smithy Wood site off the M1 turned out in force for a peaceful demonstration outside Sheffield Town Hall.
The weekend’s protest was organised by The Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust (SRWT) who have been fighting plans for a retail development in the area for the last four years.
The £74m development proposed by the Extra Motorway Services Area group would include a large car park, 80-bed hotel, a McDonald’s restaurant and a Starbucks to serve passing motorists.
Extra MSA offered to compensate for the loss of trees with over six acres of community woodland in Chapel Town. However, ecological groups are concerned about the loss of ancient woodland, which contains species that could be irreplaceable.
Sheffield City Council were due to make their final decision on the site on March 28th but the meeting was postponed following a second bid for a service station on a separate site off junction 33.
The wet weather did little to dampen spirits at the demonstration, which was kicked off by Sheffield Samba Band accompanied by SRWT’s badger mascot.
Speakers at the protest included Angela Smith, MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, Liz Ballard, CEO of Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust and Oliver Newham, Senior Campaigner at the Woodland Trust.
Liz Ballard said: “Irreplaceable ancient woodland and local wildlife should be protected and not destroyed. Smithy Wood is not the place to build a motorway service area.”
Speakers also highlighted the site had been mismanaged in recent years and that a number of motorbikes and vehicles were able to gain access.
Jean Howe, Chair of Cowley Residents Action Group, said: “Yes 4×4’s have done damage, but it is retrievable. It could be a wonderful resource for local people to use if it was managed and looked after.”
Ms Howe added: “We do not want a concrete jungle instead of a beautiful woodland.”
Speeches were rounded off by a chorus of Joni Mitchell’s hit song Big Yellow Taxi, led by local singer Richard Kedward. Protesters also held signs saying “don’t pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”
Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust have said they will continue to call on the public to contact their local councilors to oppose the plans.