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Angry Ash Range Campaigners Slam Minister Over ‘Fabrications’ in His Late MoD Answer

Published on: 16 May, 2021
Updated on: 16 May, 2021

Families with children demonstrating about the closure of Ash Ranges in December.

By David Reading

A long-awaited MoD reply has angered campaigners fighting to reopen the Ash Ranges Firing Complex (ARFC) for recreation. The letter from Jeremy Quin, minister for Defence Procurement, finally answered an appeal made in January by Ash Parish Council chairman Cllr Nigel Manning.

One protester described Mr Quin’s letter as “confused and confusing”, containing information and statistics “significantly at variance with previous correspondence”.

For more than 170 years, people have used the ranges for recreation but the MoD suddenly closed the ARFC, 12% of the area, in April last year, saying they had serious concerns about public safety and vandalism. Cllr Manning had asked Mr Quin to renew full access.

Jeremy Quin MP

The minister wrote: “I fully appreciate the strength of opinion on the issue locally but it has become impossible to justify retaining an open space and the associated risks that this may entail while at the same time losing training hours and paying to repair damage inflicted by third parties.

“The Ash Range complex has, I am afraid, been the subject of vandalism. Having reviewed the data since 2015 the costs currently sit at £164,434 with 6,128 range hours lost over that period. The extent of the criminal damage and the costs to rectify were escalating annually.”

He said the cost was £34,315 in 2019, with 6,128 range hours lost. But from January 2020 till March 2021, the closure had reduced the figures to £8,016 and 1,124 hours, with damage to the perimeter fence and signs accounting for half the incidents.

Mr Quin added: “While the costs associated with vandalism inside the range complex areas have significantly reduced, I am afraid they have not been eradicated.”

But Save Ash Ranges campaigner Sarah Alexander said: “We are extremely dissatisfied with this letter. It contains facts and figures yet again significantly at variance with previous [MoD] correspondence.

“The story and so-called ‘evidence’ appears to change with each interaction or correspondence, which leads inexorably to the conclusion that the DIO (Defence Infrastructure Organisation) is either fabricating or is incompetent. Neither is a good look for a public body, funded by and at the service of taxpayers.

“Again we ask, what is the real reason for the closure? And we will continue to ask this question until we are given an answer that isn’t a clear fabrication.”

Cllr Nigel Manning

Cllr Manning’s letter to Mr Quin had pointed out the council’s support of military activities on Ash Ranges, but said they were “disappointed and very angry” when the ARFC suddenly closed without consultation.

Lib Dem Carla Morson, the new county councillor for Ash, said: “Since the closure of the most accessible part of Ash Ranges there have been many inconsistencies about the reasons for the closure and the most recent response from the MoD does not resolve these.

Cllr Carla Morson

“There remain too many unanswered questions raised by residents. In addition, the lack of any information on the proposal to review the by-laws just adds to the feeling that the truth behind the decision to close off the ARFC has still to be uncovered.“

Now the campaign has also gained the backing of the Guildford Joint Committee, who have written to the DIO’s chief executive, Graham Dalton. The committee consists of members of Surrey County Council and Guildford Borough Council.

Cllr John Rigg

Committee chairman Cllr John Rigg wrote: “Residents have been especially frustrated over the past 12 months when the instructions from central government have been to restrict their travel and take their exercise locally.

“The closure of the ARFC during this period has made it much harder for them to find suitable outdoor spaces. This is particularly the case for those with impaired mobility, for whom the ARFC provides a good-quality area with its perfect tracks and flat surface.”

The committee expressed disappointment that conversations involving the MoD, parish council, Surrey Heath MP Michael Gove and local residents have failed to resolve the situation, with the parish council being forced to use Freedom of Information requests in attempts to discover what really was behind the closure.

The letter also seeks assurance from the DIO to engage positively with the councillors and residents to arrive at an outcome allowing full access to the ranges.

The Guildford Dragon has asked the parish council, led by Cllr Manning, for their response to Mr Quin’s letter, but no reply has been yet received.

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