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Ash Residents Campaign Against Imposed Access Restrictions at Army Ranges

Published on: 28 Jul, 2020
Updated on: 28 Jul, 2020

By David Reading

A group of Ash Vale residents is mounting a campaign to persuade the Ministry of Defence to re-instate public access to parts of the Ash Ranges that have been permanently closed off.

The public has been allowed for many years to use the ranges for their recreation, but 12 per cent has been out of bounds since March. People with disabilities are said to be affected worst of all because of the distance they would have to travel to the access points that remain.

The MoD says the closure was due to safety concerns over the public accessing a firing range, even on non-firing days, and to prevent vandalism. A spokesperson said vandalism had occurred on the firing ranges, mainly affecting targets, lane markers and stop butts. “Dog faeces on the firing points is also a real concern along with a blatant disregard of the bye-laws to stay off all range infrastructure.”

James Morgan-Yates

James Morgan-Yates, who has lived in Ash Vale for seven years, is a spokesman for the group, which has been campaigning to persuade the MoD to change its mind. He said the area in question was an important recreation area for local people, particularly dog walkers.

He said: “Whilst for people like myself the closure of the 12 per cent is more of an inconvenience, since it is just over a mile to the nearest open gate, for disabled people the path along the outside of the fences is narrow and not suitable for those in a wheelchair, mobility scooter or with other mobility issues. I myself have been shielding during the Covid crisis and the narrow nature of the paths means that you come into very close contact with other people. This makes it very unsafe.”

He added: “The closed section is on the boundary fence from Ash Vale Station side all the way along Ash Vale to the corner of the Wharf and all the way up the hill past Ash. All the gates along this area are locked, including those that allowed disabled persons easy access. In January the DIO (Defence Infrastructure Organisation) installed new gates at the main entrance. Before this the ranges were closed to cars but the public could still access when the flags were down.”

The campaigners believe that the MoD’s concern for public safety is not a valid argument for closing off the area because, they say, there have been so few accidents over the years. Their campaign’s Facebook page claims to have 470 members.

Heather Johnson Photo: AshRanges.com

Heather Johnson, who has lived in Ash Vale for 52 years, has reduced mobility due to a severe back problem and gets around on a mobility scooter. She said: “We have always enjoyed our recreation on the ranges, even before we had dogs. The range is a very special place and loved and enjoyed by most of the population in the area.

“Suddenly the MoD decided to lock the gates just after lockdown began at the start of the pandemic. I was devastated. The gates that are open and closest to us are far too far away to get to before starting our ‘walk’. So, although we are told that we have only lost 12 per cent of the area, for people like me it is actually 100 per cent. My only alternative is the perimeter path, but it is full of tree roots, which is not only uncomfortable but in places very dangerous as I could easily tip. It really is very depressing as I cannot go out with our dogs and I miss this terribly.”

Mrs Johnson said public presence has been instrumental in lessening the damage caused by fire on the ranges. “People walking on the ranges have long been the eyes and ears of the MoD,” she said. “Over the years we have had many fires, mainly after very dry spells and often which have got out of control. I’m sure most have been deliberately lit.”

She related one incident where friends of hers caught a group of youngsters lighting a fire and by promptly calling the fire brigade they limited the damage that could have resulted.

Ash ranges warning sign.

An MoD spokesperson said: “The technical areas of the Ash Ranges training area have been closed permanently. This is due to safety concerns for the general public accessing a firing range, even on non-firing days, and to prevent vandalism to these facilities. These are already clearly demarcated and hard to access without using the gates. No new fences will be erected that restrict access by the public.

“The remaining 88 per cent (3,500 acres) of Ash Ranges is available for public access unless live firing is taking place or the areas are being used for military training.

There is no intention whatsoever to prevent ongoing access to Ash Ranges Danger Area.” There has been some local speculation that the MoD could decide, at some point in the future, to sell the area in question for housing. But the MoD said there was an enduring defence requirement for the Ash Ranges and the closure of the range technical area to the public was purely for reasons of security.

Mr Morgan-Yates said he felt Ash Parish Council could have offered a stronger challenge to the MoD’s decision to limit public access, but a council spokesperson said a dialogue with the MoD was ongoing.

Cllr Jo Randall, borough and parish councillor for Ash Wharf Ward, said: “In March when closures were put in place without any prior notice this understandably caused considerable upset amongst residents. However, since March we have managed to have some engagement with representatives of the MoD and DIO. At these meetings, it was explained that the purpose of the closure was indeed public safety and to reduce the amount of vandalism which has been occurring.

“Whilst it is appreciated that the needs of the military of the ranges for training purposes is a priority we are well aware that some of the restrictions have made it very difficult for those with disabilities, in particular, to enjoy the same access to the area as previously.

“We have therefore been encouraging the MoD and DIO to try to mitigate these restrictions to make it easier for those residents affected to continue to enjoy the ranges as far as it is possible, given the restrictions put in place. We will continue to maintain a dialogue with both departments to find a more suitable direct access to the area as we are very conscious that this issue is of great importance to residents.”

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test 8 Responses to Ash Residents Campaign Against Imposed Access Restrictions at Army Ranges

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    July 28, 2020 at 11:37 am

    I seem to remember back in the 1960s We were told to ‘stay off these ranges’ because there was still live ammunition there from the live firing exercises during the war. Was it ever cleaned up?

  2. Dave Middleton Reply

    July 28, 2020 at 11:53 am

    The age-old story of a small, moronic, section of the public, through their anti-social actions, spoiling it for the majority.

    For goodness sake, who in their right mind allows their dog to foul on a firing point, where soldiers have to lay down to fire their weapons? It’s unfortunate for those affected, but I can fully understand why the MOD has chosen to restrict access to those areas of the ranges.

    • Craig Hicks Reply

      July 29, 2020 at 10:12 am

      I agree this is unacceptable, but not really a valid reason for closing the ranges to the public. Better controls can be implemented.

      How do they propose stopping the foxes, badgers etc from fouling on the range floor? Will they respect the fencing and notices?

  3. Peter Wright Reply

    July 29, 2020 at 9:07 am

    I do not understand how this area can be any safer when the flags are up, and the ranges in use, by locking people out when the flags are down and no firing is taking place. I find it illogical.

    Also, this action has not made any difference to vandalism, as the gates are easy to climb over. In fact, they may have encouraged vandalism because there is no one there to see what is going on.

  4. Barry Sutlieff Reply

    August 4, 2020 at 7:05 pm

    It is rubbish to justify closing part of the ranges for “public safety” reasons. For 170 years the ranges have been shared with the public. How many people have suffered injuries in that time? Where is the evidence? Also why no public consultation to engage those of us who love the ranges and see how we can support the MOD, as indeed most of us have done for so many years?

  5. keith Calton Reply

    August 26, 2020 at 11:11 am

    The MOD are using a sledge hammer to crack a tiny nut. Access can be restricted during firing but not otherwise.

    These lands were originally common land and taken from us in the first place I believe. The irony is that sometimes military land is released and we, the public, have to buy what was once originally ours.

  6. Stephen Powell Reply

    September 14, 2020 at 9:59 am

    Sadly it seems the majority of us are being punished for the irresponsible and ignorant actions of a few, dog walkers who seem to think it’s ok to let their dogs foul in public spaces or hang up a bag of dog faeces like some macabre Christmas decoration, and people discarding their rubbish everywhere.

    The Basingstoke canal towpath is a similar story, poo all over the place, as well as empty bottles, cans and bags etc.

    I actually find myself siding with the MOD on this, why should they put up with it, our soldiers should not have to clear dog mess out the way just so they can do their job. I expect the Basingstoke Canal authority would shut the towpath if they could and I wouldn’t blame them.

    Sadly I see no alternative until people can learn to be more responsible.

  7. Dennis Firminger Reply

    September 14, 2020 at 10:15 am

    What are the long term consequences of closure? Will that cause the courts to cede ownership of the enclosed areas to MOD Estates at some time in the future? Then in a hundred years will they sell the land off to a property developer like is happening now across Aldershot?

    It may be the thin end of the wedge.

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