Smithy Wood - Urgent Action Required

1st May 2014

Sheffield City Council has been asked to decide between the intrinsic value of an ancient woodland that has been a haven for people and nature for centuries, and a generic pit-stop for a tank of diesel and a dishwater cappuccino. In our view, that should be a pretty straightforward choice in favour of the woodland, and many, many people agree. Unfortunately, there is a huge threat of the wrong decision being made.

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The proposed motorway service area at Smithy Wood, off Junction 35 of the M1, has made local headlines, and has now been debated in the House of Commons. CPRE is working with the local community and several other environmental organisations to object to the planning application. The case will test the strength of Green Belt policy in defending the countryside against inappropriate development, and is causing controversy over the concept of ‘offsetting’ the loss of 800 year-old ancient woodland by planting what the activist George Monbiot recently called ‘a bunch of saplings with rabbit guards around them’.

The application should be dismissed out of hand. The argument that a service area is needed at this point on the motorway network is really a sham: it will not serve the vast majority of people’s journeys and, besides, the Department for Transport does not require need to be demonstrated, so the question is simply this: is a precious ancient woodland in a Green Belt the right place for a commercial development that will be strikingly similar to other ones a few miles away? Clearly, the rational answer is ‘no’.

The applicant argues that the development would create jobs in the area, but national and local planning policy is very straightforward on this matter: nearby, allocated employment land, especially at Smithy Wood Business Park, provides the locations where job opportunities can be promoted. Green Belt is not an appropriate location for speculative commercial development.

This stretch of motorway is very heavily used by local traffic making short journeys and also crossing over the motorway on the main roads between Sheffield and Rotherham. Since the service area would draw longer-haul traffic off and onto the motorway that would not otherwise have cause to use the junction, it would undermine the new the Smart Motorway Scheme and cause more congestion on the local road network. It would also inevitably worsen air pollution from road traffic, one of the biggest causes for shortened life expectancies in Sheffield.

Smithy Wood has already been heavily eroded by the M1 motorway and by other developments, and is also at risk from the HS2 rail proposals. The proposed ‘offsetting’ measures are laughable, because a new woodland scheme cannot possibly offset or compensate for the loss of rich biodiversity, natural and cultural heritage associated with ancient woodland. It would have a permanent, devastating effect on the local environment, and knock-on impacts on public health.

We urge everyone to object to this very damaging proposal, before Friday 16th May. The easiest way is to click this link and go to ‘comments’: