Campaigners hoping to prevent a stretch of ancient woodland off the M1 from becoming a motorway service station are stepping up their efforts ahead of a crucial Sheffield council meeting at the end of this month.
The Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust (SRWT), South Yorkshire’s largest conservation group, are inviting local residents to take action and join their peaceful protest against the Chapeltown development. The demonstration is planned to take place outside Sheffield Town Hall on the morning of the 18th March.
The protest comes just ten days before the council’s crucial decision on the fate of the greenbelt Smithy Wood site. It will be part of a series of events by the group including a litter pick and a roadside vigil, intended to celebrate ecological diversity at the 800 year old site.
SRWT has been campaigning against the proposed development by the Extra Motorway Service Area Group, whose partners include McDonald’s and Starbucks, for nearly 4 years. Now both groups face an anxious wait for the council’s final announcement on the 28th March.
The proposed £74m service station , just off junction 35, would include a range of stores, a food court, an 80 bed hotel and a large car park. The group have also said they intend to oversee the creation of 600 new acres of green space, which they intend to call the ‘Chapeltown Community Woodland’.
The Extra MSA group have said the station will “Improve road safety along one of the UK’s busiest stretches of Motorway, create some 400 jobs during the construction period and create a further 300 new permanent operational jobs.”
The group also added that the move would aid healthy living both for residents and for tired drivers on the M1.
Whilst developers have offered to compensate for the loss of ancient woodland by planting new trees and creating other prominent areas of local woodland, SRWT say they are not satisfied that new trees justify the loss of biodiversity in the ancient woodland.
Liz Ballard, CEO of Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, said “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.”
The trust have spoken out about the current mismanagement of the site and have asked the council to support their efforts to improve the area, so that it can be enjoyed by future generations.
They are also urging residents to contact their local Councillors about the site amid fears it could have a devastating impact on the 121 species of plant life in the area.
Nick Howard, a member of the SRWT team added that “that the area was already well serviced by local businesses.”