The case for not building in ancient Smithy Wood is clear; there is no environmental case, a contentious business case and from what I have experienced, very limited public support. In fact I’m still waiting to hear from a single person in Chapeltown, Thorpe Hesley or the wider Sheffield area that wants to give up 8ha of their local ancient woodland for a motorway service area.
Despite mounting opposition to the proposal, a planning application from a developer has become an increasingly likely occurrence in recent months. Indeed archaeological surveying work, traffic monitoring, even attempts to woo local political figures has all taken place in recent weeks.
With this in mind you would expect us to be looking at the situation with increasing alarm. This, while certainly still apparent, has been tempered by the news that local residents, led by the Cowley Residents Action Group (CRAG) have put in an application for Smithy Wood to be granted something called ‘village green status’.
Village green status is where local people that have used an area of land without secrecy, force or permission for at least 20 years (for lawful sports and pastimes, such as walking, bird watching etc….) can apply to register the land as a new green. This, if granted, protects the land from private or corporate development forever, and formally allows its use by local people.
Its certainly not plain sailing and government has recently tightened the regulations about what can or cannot be protected this way, but given that the land is green belt, ancient woodland and not designated for development, there is a pretty strong case. The fact the wood has been in use for 1,000 let alone 20 years by local people is a help too.
If this works, it will be an incredible achievement and testament to hardwork and the support ancient woodland has in Sheffield. The local campaigners have our full support, and the good news is that ancient woods in England have been protected in this way before.
So if you would like to help out what the group needs most of all is memories, experiences, stories or photos of people using Smithy Wood. We can pass these on to the local campaigners to use and build their case. So if you think you can help, do get in touch, there really is no time to lose.