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Protesters Mass on Closure Anniversary to Demand Ash Ranges Reopen

Published on: 19 Apr, 2021
Updated on: 19 Apr, 2021

The Rev’d Neil Lambert leads the protest outside the main gates.

By David Reading

About 200 people, including families with children, massed outside the main gates of the Ash Ranges on Sunday (April 18), opposing the Ministry of Defence decision to close of a large part of the ranges to ramblers.

The protest was led by the Rev’d Neil Lambert, vicar of St Mary’s, Ash Vale, who gave an impassioned speech, marking the one-year anniversary of the closure.

He said later: “We simply ask the MoD to follow the government’s Nolan Principles, the seven basic principles of public life. Democracy is not dead but it certainly needs defending.

“Either the MoD is held to account or we are living in a dictatorship. The protest will go on until they agree to work with the community.”

Families march up to the main gates

The Sunday crowd was double the numbers of protesters who attended the first demonstration after the section people had been using for recreation for nearly 170 years was suddenly closed.

The gathering was an unqualified success, said Sarah Alexander, one of the organisers, with people from across the area showing commitment to the cause.

“Access to the area was removed arbitrarily without consultation with the community and for no justifiable reason,” she added. “It is vital that we as a community continue to demonstrate our frustration with the situation and our resolve to campaign until access is restored.

“We will not let the matter rest, and we will not be defeated by obstructionist tactics. As law-abiding citizens, we will continue to exert political, legal and community pressure via every avenue open to us until the peaceful access the public has enjoyed for so many years has been restored.”

The campaigners are urging Michael Gove, MP, to help them win their battle.

When the MoD operating arm Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), closed the area known as the Ash Range Firing Complex they claimed serious concerns about public safety and vandalism.

The campaigners say results from their hundreds of Freedom of Information requests show those reasons for closure to be without foundation. They are demanding the MoD reveals their real reason.

Ribbons attached by the protesters on the main gate.

Last July, reports emerged about the possibility of the area being sold for housing. But the MoD said there was an enduring defence requirement and closure of the range technical area was purely for reasons of security.

Carla Morson, a leading supporter of the campaign and head of the local Coronavirus Support Group, said: “Recreation and open spaces are particularly important during the present pandemic.

“That’s not the only reason I am supporting the Save Ash Ranges campaign, but it is up at the top because our wellbeing is paramount for all.”

Carla Morson, head of the Coronavirus Support Group, adds her voice to the protest

Also present were members of Ash Parish Council, including the chairman, Cllr Nigel Manning. In January he 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”. He said no reply has been received.

The council has challenged the MoD’s reasons for the closure, criticised what they see as MoD contradictions and suspect “a complete cover-up”.

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test 2 Responses to Protesters Mass on Closure Anniversary to Demand Ash Ranges Reopen

  1. Russell Morris Reply

    April 20, 2021 at 6:45 pm

    Our armed forces should be employed solely to protect our nation, a job they do very well, not used as an excuse to exclude ramblers.

  2. Alan Bew Reply

    April 24, 2021 at 6:40 pm

    It would be interesting to discover the sum of money the MOD paid the Ash Community, if any, for access to Ash Common to use the ranges during normal working hours about 170 years ago.

    The shared-use has worked OK for so long and I am sure everyone agrees soldiers require ranges to practice their marksmanship but let us keep our access.

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