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MoD’s Vigorous Response To Campaigners Over Army Ranges Access Restrictions

Published on: 25 Aug, 2020
Updated on: 25 Aug, 2020

By David Reading

Residents of Ash Vale are understandably concerned about the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) decision to close part of the Ash Ranges training area to the public. But what is the other side to the story?

The views of local campaigners are clear: The public have been allowed for many years to use the ranges for their recreation. They want the MoD to re-instate public access to the 12% of the ranges that have been closed off since March.

Damage to a gate on Ash Ranges. The MoD has restricted public access to due recent vandalism prompted by serious concerns for public safety. See further pictures below, all supplied by the MoD.

On social media they have referred to the closure as “unlawful.” They say the closure is particularly hard on people with disabilities because of the distance they would have to travel to the access points that remain.

Now, at a briefing for the local media, the MoD has offered a vigorous response to the campaigners’ case. The briefing was led by Col Philip Cook, Deputy Head of UK Training for the MoD. It was argued strongly that the decision to close of parts of the training area was prompted by serious concerns for public safety, even on non-firing days, and by the increasing incidence of vandalism.

The campaigners have said the MoD’s concern for public safety is not a valid argument for closing off the area because there have been so few accidents over the years.

However, the MoD stressed that vandalism and public safety had been serious issues for some time and the damage had got steadily worse in recent years. Vandalism since 2015 had cost the MoD £170,000, its statement said.

Images showing vandalism that has taken place on Ash Ranges. Pictures from the MoD. Click on single image to enlarge in a new window.

This mainly affected targets, lane markers and stop butts on the firing ranges, but there had also been more extreme cases, as shown by the pictures published here, released by the MoD. In addition there were regular antisocial problems such as rubbish dumping and dog mess.

The MoD said the intention to close parts of the ranges to the public was initiated in 2016 when reporting revealed the scale of the vandalism and disruption to military training. This was initially discussed with Ash Parish Council on in August 2018 and again in subsequent meetings.

Remains of a fire is also part of the vandalism. Picture MoD.

Then the Covid crisis hit early this year. The uncertainty about how transmissible the disease was and how this might increase the risk to members of MoD staff working within the range floor technical areas meant the closure of the range floor areas was brought forward.

The campaigners have claimed that the MoD has shown little empathy with their case.

However, the MoD stressed its commitment to working harmoniously with the community, pointing out that funding has been granted for the renovation of a nine-mile circular route for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and disabled people. This would ensure access for residents all the year round even when firing was taking place. This development work would be completed within the next two years.

Is the closure of the 12% of the site unlawful?

The MoD said: “The denial of public access to the military land at Ash Ranges is not unlawful. The MoD puts up new fencing or closes areas by notices for good reasons – such as protecting the site from costly damage or anything else that has the effect of requiring additional maintenance – and in order to protect the public.”

The campaigners claim that their homes are now at greater risk because the public will no longer be able to alert the fire service to bush fires.

The MoD said it had robust processes in place to deal with fires and did not rely on the public to alert the emergency services to fires or to any other incidents. Its statement said: “The MoD is responsible for monitoring the training estate, and as a reliable landowner will report any incidents that put the safety of the public or military users at risk.”

Ash Parish Council has been criticised by campaigners for not offering a stronger challenge to the MoD, but parish councillor Jo Randall said genuine efforts were made to set up a dialogue.

She said that from late 2019 three attempts were made by the council to arrange meetings but all were cancelled by the MoD. It wasn’t until late April that the council actually managed to achieve some form of dialogue, by which time the MoD decision had already been made. However, she believed both sides were willing to discuss the situation further and the council hoped to hold talks again with the MoD “in the very near future”.

There will be a chance for all parties to discuss the various issues on Wednesday, September 16. The Save Ash Ranges campaigners have set up a virtual meeting using the platform Zoom, and say that so far there have been acceptances from Surrey Heath MP Michael Gove, the MoD and Ash Parish Council.

The meeting is open to anyone. People wishing to attend can do so by clicking on the Zoom link http://bit.ly/AshRangesMeeting at 7pm on Wednesday, September 16.

Click here for previous story: Ash Residents Campaign Against Imposed Access Restrictions at Army Ranges

Poster advertising the online open meeting on Wednesday, September 16.

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test 9 Responses to MoD’s Vigorous Response To Campaigners Over Army Ranges Access Restrictions

  1. Craig Hicks Reply

    August 26, 2020 at 10:01 am

    I’m not convinced that closing off the range to the public will prevent the damage shown to the gate or fence. That looks to be the determined attempt of someone attempting gaining vehicular access, joy riding possibly, not by someone going for a stroll.

  2. Andy Jenkinson Reply

    August 26, 2020 at 1:28 pm

    If vandals are prevented from accessing one area, what stops them vandalising a different area? Won’t they vandalise any barrier which prevents their access?

  3. David Middleton Reply

    August 26, 2020 at 2:35 pm

    What the complainants seem to conveniently forget, is that access to military training areas, like any private land, on anything other than public rights of way, is a privilege. Just because that privilege has been available for many years, does not make it an irrevocable right.

    They should consider themselves lucky that some 88% of the ranges remain open to the public when not in use by the military.

    • Craig Hicks Reply

      August 26, 2020 at 6:37 pm

      It’s not just a privilege, keeping the area open for public exercise is enshrined into the contract when the land was given to the MOD.

      And even more interesting is that some of the photos provided by the MOD in the article are not even from the area which has been closed; they are from Henley range.

  4. Peter Corns Reply

    August 26, 2020 at 5:53 pm

    The gate shown is not even a gate leading into the Ash Range Complex which is the area now closed off. Why would the MOD even produce something so irrelevant to their argument?

  5. John Cooke Reply

    August 27, 2020 at 6:26 am

    I worked at Ash Ranges a few weeks ago as a contractor. I was aware of the ongoing protests about closing access to the range.

    I was quite surprised and disappointed by the amount of litter on the paths, previously open to the public, along with the ubiquitous discarded dog waste bags, some empty, some looked ‘used’.

    I don’t think the range users should have to be at risk from dog waste or that the on site wardens should have to deal with that and I don’t blame them for closing access.

    Additionally, there are acres of land open to the public in the area.

    • Peter Corns Reply

      August 28, 2020 at 12:28 pm

      Interestingly you say “paths previously open to the public”, bearing in mind that the public have been denied access to this area since 1st April, where is the rubbish etc coming from, possibly from the site users???

  6. John Perkins Reply

    August 27, 2020 at 11:33 am

    “This land is your land, this land is my land” wrote Woody Guthrie.

    Here the MOD thinks it owns the land that people allow it to use.

  7. Heather Johnson Reply

    August 27, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    If the MOD planned to improve the perimeter path, why didn’t they do so before they closed the range floor? I am restricted in using my mobility scooter because the paths are too uneven because of tree roots, making it painful and dangerous as it can cause my scooter to tip. This has already been for five months!

    It is rubbish that the MOD have processes in place to detect fires. There has never been any evidence of official patrols over there. No doubt those intent of starting fires will still climb over fences and gates to do so.

    When we, and others, have reported vandalism being committed, we have been met with total disinterest, more so if the offenders are youngsters.

    MOD say they are working harmoniously with the public – this is absolutely not true. It has taken a lot of effort on the part of many to get any MOD engagement. They have dismissed out of hand any involvement of the local community in their offers of being eyes and ears. Also any suggestion of a walk on licence, as currently with those riding their horses over the Range.

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