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Campaigners Mount Zoom Skirmish in Battle to Reopen MoD’s Ash Ranges

Published on: 3 Oct, 2020
Updated on: 3 Oct, 2020

The campaigners’ message – aimed at people who use the ranges for recreation

By David Reading

Rambling campaigners are planning how to open their next battle in the war with the Ministry of Defence to re-instate public access in closed-off areas of Ash Ranges.

For nearly 170 years the ranges have been open to public recreation, but in March this year 12 per cent was declared out of bounds, the MoD citing safety concerns even on non-firing days, and prevention of vandalism.

See also: Ash Residents Campaign Against Imposed Access Restrictions at Army Ranges and MoD’s Vigorous Response To Campaigners Over Army Ranges Access Restrictions

One hundred viewers tuned in to a virtual campaign meeting with the MoD, Surrey Heath MP Michael Gove and parish councillor Jo Randall, held through Zoom because of pandemic rules

James Morgan-Yates – at the centre of the campaign

Campaign spokesman James Morgan-Yates said: “Our meeting was a total success. We had 100 attendees including the panel plus at least another 100 watching the live stream on YouTube.

“We managed to do what no one else has managed, to open dialogue between the MoD and the residents without Ash Parish Council sitting in the way. For the first time, residents could ask direct questions.

“We showed the MoD, Michael Gove and the parish council just how important this matter is for local residents, demonstrating that not only we are not going away but the size of our group is increasing.”

Mr Morgan-Yates pointed out the ranges had been open for public recreation since they were established in 1855.

He said false information had been supplied by the DIO (the MoD’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation) to back reasons for the closure and the group is considering how best to refute these.

Old railway sleepers that the campaigners say have been dumped at a Site of Special Scientific Interest

Another dispute centres on the dumping of a large number of tarred old railway sleepers dumped in woodland within a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Campaigners reported the MoD to Natural England, the government’s adviser for the natural environment, which is investigating.

During the online debate, Lieutenant Colonel Philip Cook, deputy head of UK Training, stressed the area was “not a playground but a dangerous place”, with public safety paramount, adding that the rest of the training area would remain open to ramblers.

Campaigner Peter Corns challenged the MoD over pictures showing the effects of vandalism on the Ranges, supplied to The Dragon by the MoD and published in late August. Mr Corns asked why two of these MoD pictures were of a separate part of the range complex, unconnected with the site at the centre of the controversy.

The MoD told The Dragon in a statement that most of the pictures were taken within the technical area (the closed-off site) apart from three from the wider Range Danger Area or the two satellite ranges at Henley Park and Stoney Castle.

The statement said those photographs were included to illustrate the MoD’s wider security concerns at Ash Ranges, at no time inferring all were taken within the technical area.

And there is a lighter touch to the residents’ campaign. Mr Morgan-Yates has sent mugs bearing campaign messages to key figures at the DIO, as well as having a photobook published for Michael Gove showing scenes from the ranges that demonstrate how important the recreation area is for local people.

Mugs bearing the campaign message – sent to officers at the MoD. The photobook is for MP Michael Gove, illustrating why the ranges are treasured by local people

“The mugs are a bit of fun, really,” he said. “They’re pushing our message but also letting the DIO know what we think of the DIO and their lack of any engagement other than Col Cook’s attendance at the virtual meeting.

“We want the DIO to know the problem is not going away and local residents remain angry and unhappy with being denied access to valuable recreation land.

“Now we are trying to have open dialogue with Ash Parish Council and the DIO so points can be scrutinised and documented. We understand that so far, no minutes of any meetings between the two organisations have been taken.”

Parish councillor Randall (Ash Wharf) said after the meeting: “Ash Parish Council has indicated its willingness to continue to participate in further discussion. It is hoped a smaller meeting between the council and residents to address some of the points arising can be arranged for a mutually convenient date in the near future.

“Personally, I found the meeting useful and I hope residents felt it was a worthwhile exercise because it gave some of them an opportunity to voice their strongly felt concerns about the partial closure of the ranges and to pose questions primarily to Michael Gove and Col Cook.”

The MoD has been asked about the dumping of railway sleepers. Mr Gove has been asked by email for his view on how the dispute can be resolved.

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Responses to Campaigners Mount Zoom Skirmish in Battle to Reopen MoD’s Ash Ranges

  1. Peta Malthouse Reply

    October 3, 2020 at 4:18 pm

    When I initially read into this, one of the phrases that stood out was a concern from the MOD about extensive planned development flowing from the Local Plan.

    The need to respond to the threat of greater public use appeared to have prompted the consultation. We have not only sacrificed our green belt but appear to have threatened to limit access to a valuable part of the remaining land.

    All power to the elbows of our brave campaigners. I suspect this is about fear of future damage.

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