ANGRY protesters battling against the ‘decimation’ of acres of open green belt issued a call to arms as machinery started work on creating Europe’s largest parcel hub - just weeks after Barnsley Council granted planning permission.

Campaigners believe the local authority has used the current lockdown restrictions as a smokescreen to speed up the Hermes scheme off Tankersley Lane, Hoyland, which is set to cost £60m and be capable of moving more than a million parcels a day.

Members of Save Hoyland were joined by Extinction Rebellion activists on Tuesday who vowed to do all they can to halt the progress and called on the 2,000-plus petitioners to back forthcoming demonstrations.

The site - allocated as the Hoyland West masterplan in the council’s local plan development blueprint - was deemed suitable for development despite its green belt status, as were Hoyland North and Hoyland South.

Ci Davis, from Extinction Rebellion, told the Chronicle that Barnsley Council is one of the country’s worst offenders for reallocating green belt land for development purposes.

He added: “Hoyland’s three masterplans represent criminal destruction of the environment. Removing all that green cover means no further carbon dioxide will be removed over that land.

“This will actively contribute to Barnsley’s climate crisis and councillors know full well the situation we’re in, as do our local MPs, yet they’re failing to oppose schemes which are going to cost us and future generations.

“The loss of plants lead to the loss of animals and insects we need to look after these things, not destroy them. At a time of pandemic it is well-known that nature is one of the greatest contributors to mental health so it truly is a shocking time to remove it from local people.

“Hermes’ giant warehouse will provide maybe 500 staff, less than the number of trucks going in and out each day.

“I am pretty certain that the reallocation of green belt in the borough is not around places like Cawthorne and Silkstone. It is difficult not to feel that working class communities are once again being regarded as sacrificial.

“What resources Hoyland has are being decimated at an intense rate and we not be suspicious about whether the cover of lockdown has been used to push this through.

“If we all come together, we can halt this.”

Despite their petition’s support, campaigners believe many self-isolating residents missed out on the chance to lodge their individual objections to both the masterplan and Hermes’ application.

However, councillors pledged their support to the warehouse and the wider masterplan which includes infrastructure improvements such as new access roads and a spokesperson said allocating land within Barnsley’s green belt for development was ‘unavoidable’.

“Masterplan proposals for Hoyland West, where the Hermes site will be located, included a six-week consultation period with notices displayed to residents, promotion of the main online survey and supporting question and answer sessions,” they added.

“In previous decades Barnsley has been very successful at regenerating old industrial sites and collieries and by the time the council originally consulted on our local plan in 2014, it became apparent that we did not have enough brownfield land left to meet future housing and employment needs.

“It’s important to consider that vast quantities of our brownfield land have now been returned to the green belt. Almost every former pit stack is now acres of public, open green space.

“Elsewhere, the local plan continues to protect around three-quarters of the borough which remains in the green belt.”

Police have urged residents to not enter the site after reports of missiles being thrown at workers were made.

A spokesperson said: “While we understand that feelings may be running high around this development, and we absolutely respect an individual’s right to make a peaceful protest, we must stress that no persons should be entering the site unauthorised, or purposely attempting to impede operatives in carrying out their work.

“To do so could present a clear danger to themselves and others.

“We have liaised with senior engineers at the site, and we will be carrying out targeted patrols at the location in the coming days.”