More than 7,000 people have objected to the Smithy Wood plans since a pre-application process began in summer 2013 and the proposals for planning permission were formally submitted in March 2014.
The Woodland Trust, which is amongst the environmental groups campaigning against the plans, says it hopes the request represents “the beginning of the end for the application”.
Extra has said their plans for a £46m service station using 16 acres of the wood - approximately eight hectares of which is classified as ancient woodland - would create hundreds of jobs, while 60,000 trees would be planted to outweigh the loss of “low quality” ancient woods.
The company argues there is a need for such a development, given the drivers coming to the M1 from the M18 in South Yorkshire travel 42 miles between service stations. Highways Agency guidance say there should be motorway stops at least every 28 miles.
Extra says this proves a “special need” for its development, outweighing the rules protecting ancient woodland. The company argues there are three routes that exceed the 28-mile guidance - the M1 Woodall to M1 Woolley Edge Services; A1M Blyth to M1 Woolley Edge Services and M18 Doncaster North to M1 Woolley Edge Services - and Smithy Wood is the only location which can deal with them all.
But officials representing the company have now asked for a decision on the plans to be postponed - on the proviso that a strict timetable is set for determining the Junction 33 plan for rival firm Applegreen, which is yet to formally submit a planning application.
Sue Manns, regional director of the Pegasus Group which is acting for Extra, said: “Extra do not consider that the emerging Applegreen proposals at Junction 33 represent a viable, deliverable location for a motorway service area.
“There is a need to critically test the commercial viability and deliverability of a MSA at J33 before a decision is reached in respect of the Extra application at J35.
“Extra therefore request their application at Junction 35 be placed ‘on hold’ for a suitable but not indefinite time period, to enable a decision to be reached in respect of the Applegreen proposals at J33.”
The letter asks for Applegreen to submit its application by the end of September. It adds that if an application is submitted, a further deadline for a decision should be set and if that is missed, Sheffield Council should assume the rival scheme is not viable.
Oliver Newham, Woodland Trust senior campaigner, said: “If Extra had complete faith in their application, why ask to pause it now? For over three years they have pressed on, ignoring thousands of local objections to the environmental destruction their plans would cause. While this action doesn’t mean Smithy Wood will be saved, we hope it may be the beginning of the end for the application.”