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Help Us Reopen Ash Ranges, Campaigners Ask Guildford Joint Committee

Published on: 29 Mar, 2021
Updated on: 1 Apr, 2021

Ash Ranges protestors in December

By David Reading

Campaigners have stepped up their battle to reopen parts of Ash Ranges the MoD closed to the public a year ago.

They have formally asked the Guildford Joint Committee to support their case, an effort to secure the official backing of Guildford Borough Council and Surrey County Council.

For nearly 170 years, until April 1, 2020, all of the ranges were open to public access. Although the Ash Range Firing Complex (ARFC) had been fenced off, the area was accessible through various gates when there was no firing. Suddenly, the MoD closed off the ARFC, claiming serious concerns about public safety and vandalism.

Carl Cookson

The campaigners have been pressing the MoD, Surrey Heath MP Michael Gove and Ash Parish Council to help them reopen the area because, they say, local people need the recreation. They also question the MoD reasons for closure.

Campaign spokesman Carl Cookson told the joint committee: “The Ash Range Firing Complex was closed without any communication with the public or local councillors. There have been limited conversations with the MoD but their reasons for closure don’t have any substance.

“So the 340 acres and 10 miles of informal tracks and trails remain out of reach for the least able in society. When Ash residents use the land, they are treated as criminal lawbreakers when all they are doing is use the land for recreation as they have since 1854.

“What assistance and support can this committee, Guildford Borough Council and Surrey County Council, offer to our recreational users? Will these councils formally support Ash Parish Council and lobby for the access to be returned when not specifically used for training?”

Cllr Jo Randall

Borough Cllr Jo Randall (Con, Ash Wharf), said the MoD had failed to answer repeated parish council questions about the underlying reasons for closure. The council still hoped to engage with the MoD.

Cllr John Rigg (R4GV, Holy Trinity), chair of the joint committee, said later: “We are investigating the campaigners’ case. It will take a few weeks to reach a decision on whether we offer full support but we are obviously concerned at any loss of amenity especially during lockdown.”

Cllr John Rigg

On January 21, the parish council sent a strongly worded letter to Jeremy Quin, Minister of State for Defence Procurement, referring to “blatant inconsistencies presented by the Ministry of Defence and their complete disregard of the residents of Ash and the surrounding communities”. As of March 29, no reply has been received.

Borough Cllr Nigel Manning (Con, Ash Vale), who is also parish council chairman, told the Minister: “I have no alternative but to respectfully demand that you restore full public access to the ARFC with immediate effect until proper, open, honest and constructive discussions can take place to find an agreeable solution for the benefit and satisfaction of all parties.”

Cllr Nigel Manning

In the council’s challenge of the MoD’s reasons for the closure, they criticise what they see as contradictions and suspect “a complete cover-up”.

On the lack of reply from the MoD Mr Cookson said: “This really does show the level of respect Mr Quin has for the community. It continues to be a point of irritation that we still don’t have any evidence-supported reasons to close the range.

“But there is new evidence vandalism is increasing on the range, having the opposite effect to those stated as the ‘reasons’. We continue to be available for Mr Quin, the MoD or the DIO [Defence Infrastructure Organisation] to discuss their concerns and find a solution that does not have such a detrimental effect on our whole community.”

Last July, reports emerged about the possibility that the government might sell the area for housing. But the MoD said there was an enduring defence requirement for the Ash Ranges and closure of the range technical area to the public was purely for reasons of security.

A campaigning website, SaveOurSpaces.co.uk, has been set up as a fundraiser to allow the team to obtain advice from a QC. “We hope to raise more than £3,000 to allow us to do this,” Mr Cookson added.

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test One Response to Help Us Reopen Ash Ranges, Campaigners Ask Guildford Joint Committee

  1. James Steel Reply

    March 29, 2021 at 6:59 pm

    I’ve met with ‘Save Ash Ranges and helped campaign for the reopening of Ash Ranges. It is a vital open space for the residents in the area and the MOD act of closing the site is incredibly frustrating. I hope all can help ‘Save Ash Ranges’ campaign where possible to get the ranges back open for public use.

    James Steel is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Westborough.

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