Category: update

The Power of the People

With the snowfall today there has been no better time for the people of Ash Vale to show the DIO exactly what they think of the unlawful and un-just closure of the Range Complex. Today that is exactly what they did!

In a prominent place, on range 3, some supporters built a snow dog in defiance over the lunacy of the DIO’s decisions and the MOD’s and Minister’s unwilligness to hold them to account. Ultimately, left un-checked, the DIO are able to do whatever they want. The blame falls squarely on Jeremy Quin MP, Ben Wallace MP and of course the ever absent MP for Surrey Heath Michael Gove. To those who took the time to build this, I want to say a big thank you.

The Snow Dog is an absolutely genius idea!

It was good to also see families sledging on the ranges, as has always been the case on previous snow days. Shame on you DIO. MOD, Quin, Wallace and Gove. Your actions or in the case of MPs lack of action is denying the children in our community the chance to enjoy the snow in a safe area. You may control the gates but you can’t control the people.

Sledgers in the distance near the main gates.

MOD held to account for SSSI law breaches

On the 18th September I posted a video on the “Save Ash Ranges” facebook group showing how the MOD and their contractor had been dumping a large amount of rubbish in the woods within the Ash Range Complex. The area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and thus there are laws in place to protect the site, dumping of any kind is a criminal offence. Yet the MOD had deemed it suitable to dump a large number of rotting, tarred railway sleepers along with various other wood and metal items.

Along with my FB video I took a number of pictures which I then passed on to the relevant government authority, Natural England. I received a response a few weeks ago thanking me for the report and that they would be working with the landowner to rectify the situation.

Today I received an email from Natural England as follow:

Dear James,

I am emailing in response to your request for an update regarding sleepers being left at Ash Ranges, part of Ash to Brookwood Heaths SSSI.

Natural England have been in discussion with the landowners and agreed that no further such deposits will occur within the SSSI boundary, or in this location unless agreed by the usual SSSI consenting processes. Smaller materials that are considered to be dangerous will be removed without disturbing the spoil site. An appropriate assessment will be undertaken to ascertain the full potential that the sleeper pile, with vegetation offers wildlife. It has the characteristics of a large hibernaculum, and is potentially a good habitat to support reptiles and invertebrates. By removing the whole pile this could destroy this now valuable wildlife resource.

Thank you again for making us aware of these actions.

Kind regards,

Conservation Delivery Team

Although it was clear from the pictures Natural England have confirmed that this dumping has taken place over a long period of time. They have also confirmed that the MOD will not dump anything further.

This is a great win for the campaign with the MOD being held to account for the Enviro Vandalism and their abuse of important lands under their control that the should and must protect.

Perhaps this dumping had a part in their decision to single out the Ash Range Complex for unlawful closure to the public and to quote Michael Gove MP “Draconian measures”.

I will continue to monitor the situation. 

We Support our Troops

Over the past few months, we have switched our language talking more about the MOD as a whole and not just DIO (Defence Infrastructure Organisation). DIO is part of the MOD and responsible for looking after the training estate.

The reason for this is simple; DIO are doing what they have been told from the highest levels within the MOD along with the Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace MP and Jeremy Quin MP.

I can’t speak for everyone involved in the campaign but I 100% support our service men and women who provide a vital role in protecting the UK and its interest. Our campaign is not to single out members of the army, navy or RAF or to have any detrimental affect to their training.

We understand that Ash Ranges is a vital part of basic training for our troops and we don’t want to interfere with that. For years the local community and the MOD have worked together for the greater good, that is Ash Ranges remaining where soldiers learn to shoot whilst sharing this space with local residents when not in use.

The recent closure instigated by the MOD breaks that long partnership and much goodwill and it is that which we are campaigning against. We have a few serving members in our group and I welcome support and views of all kinds. I am reminded to keep clear in my message that it is policy as set by the organisation and not the individuals we are battling. Therefore, we should all maintain respect at all times for those members of our community that do the jobs many of us cannot or are unwilling to do.

How the closure affects the youth

Malcolm Simpson who runs the 1st Ash Vale Scout Group has shared with us how the ranges closure affects the scouts, cubs and beavers. The below is is his views in his own words.

The 1st Ash Vale Scout Group has been in existence since 1938.

It was started by the Reverend Aubin, the priest-in-charge at St Mary’s Church Ash Vale. The Group Headquarters is in Wood Street, Ash Vale. The Scout Headquarters is in a residential area.

Today the Group has a Beaver, Cub and Scout section, totalling around 100 young members. The Group is supported by a strong team of adult leaders and the young member families.

From the very beginning, the Scout Group has used the ranges for activities. It is the only open space available to the Scouts that can be easily walked to. The loss of Ash Ranges would have a big impact on the Scout Group and curtails its activities. Around 100 local community children are impacted by its loss.

Whenever the Scouts use the ranges, it is always left as it was found, if not tidier.

Ash Ranges is very special to the Scouts:

  • It is a large open area with short grass.
  • It has  woodland that is not too dense and is close to the tarmac road and open area.
  • The tarmac road is safe, without traffic.
  • It is a very safe space to manage a group of young people.
  • There are never many people there, and it is ideal for safeguarding.

Activities on Ash Ranges:

  • Incident practice – first aid, making stretchers etc.
  • Map reading, grid references.
  • Games on the short grass (rounders, quick cricket).
  • Practice pitching tents.
  • Challenges such as pitching a tent blindfolded with instructions from others (communication skills).
  • Star Gazing.
  • Bicycle maintenance, riding on tarmac road.
  • Morse code using torches.
  • Walking practice for remembrance parade.
  • Wild life and bug spotting.
  • Making and flying kites.
  • Wide games, such as returning to base with a water balloon.

The group near the target huts near Heath Vale Bridge on Ash Ranges, May 1940
Beavers having fun

Ash Ranges Open Meeting

Last night, 16th September 2020 we had a virtual meeting to discuss the future of the ranges.We could have not hoped for better attendance or cooperation at the meeting. For that, we thank every one of you who attended or tried to.

Michael Gove, our MP, answered your questions along with Councillor Jo Randall. Both were questioned about their involvement and views. We had Colonel Phil Cook head of the UK Training Estate in attendance, and I think our residents certainly showed their frustration with the decisions been made, making some excellent points that may have not changed his mind, but gave him food for thought.


Once again, thank-you to the 100 who did get in (well 137 over the time) and the stream has already been watched over 350 times. 

The meeting can be found at https://youtu.be/GBc-ABDiS1I

Survey results on the use of Aldershot Military Lands

In July our friends from byelawsreview.com released an online survey to understand how local residents use the military lands covered by the Aldershot Military Lands Byelaws 1976. We know, through a freedom of information request, that the MOD/DIO haven’t bothered to do any assessment of what the impact of any closures would be on local residents. The ByelawsReview team took it upon themselves to do the work the MOD were too lazy or too scared to do.

The results of this show (from 10,899 responses) that the lands were and are used by many people for a wide number of purposes. 84% of respondents with a GU12 postcode used the now closed Ash Ranges Complex.

What is clear is that the closure has affected a very large percentage of local residents. The briefing note with the facts and figures can be downloaded here. It really is worth a read.

I would like to say a massive thank you to those involved in producing the survey and it’s results. A truly amazing effort. It is a shame that our taxes aren’t used for positive actions such as this but instead used to fund an organisation (the DIO) who are totally unaccountable and out of control. Their abuse of power must be stopped.

Open Meeting (updated)

On 16th September at 7 pm BST, we will be holding a virtual open meeting to discuss Ash Ranges and the current closures.


We have invited the MoD, DIO, Michael Gove and our councillors to take part in a discussion around the closures, where they will update us on progress, answer your questions and ensure this topic gets the time and space it needs.

The link to the Zoom Meeting is 

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84372070195?pwd=bXM3OUN0SGxsZU5sazJEWkRReUkzQT09

If you can not connect to the online meeting, the meeting also has dial-in. Please use one of these numbers, charged at the basic rate

+44 203 051 2874   +44 203 481 5237  +44 203 481 5240  +44 203 901 7895 +44 131 460 1196 

When prompted, enter the meeting ID 843 7207 0195 then #

When prompted, the participant ID can be left blank so just press #

When prompted, enter the meeting passcode 117071 then #

As you will only be identified by mobile number when you enter the meeting making it difficult to ensure the hosts know who you are.

Please contact comms@ashranges.com if you would like to raise a question letting us know your number so we can ensure that you will be brought into the discussion.

We are operating a waiting room for the meeting, so for both joining online and via the phone, you will need to be let into the meeting by one of the hosts. 
All participants will be muted on entry to the meeting. If you want to raise a question or have a comment, please use the Raise Hand feature. The hosts will be actively monitoring the hands and chat to ensure we involve as many people as possible.


Please be respectful in the meeting. No disparaging remarks, politics or offensive language will be tolerated. Participants will be muted and removed if necessary. This is our opportunity to ask our elected officials pertinent questions and should be a civil discussion.
Additionally, we will be broadcasting the meeting on YouTube on this channel
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3U01j_-fPs

The link to the actual live stream will be updated once the stream starts. YouTube will allow chat comments which will be monitored by your hosts to be included in our discussion

How come the MOD only want to penalise the honest and not the vandals Michael?

You may have seen a post on facebook last week from Eric. He was stopped by the MOD police whilst walking on the ranges, when the flags were down, well within his rights to do so. The police told him he was trespassing and that he could be arrested. They took his details and issued him a “warning off” notice. Understandably he was not pleased.

I don’t believe the MOD have prevented or caught any vandals, yet they seem determined to catch innocent members of the community as part of their efforts to “work with the community”! If the issue with the ranges closure was due to vandalism, surely this would be their priority and people walking on the ranges, being the MOD’s eyes and ears is only a good. Yet further evidence that the closure has nothing to do with vandalism and the appaling behaviour of a tax payer funded organisation with zero accountability.

Eric has written to Michael Gove about his experience and has shared this with me so that I can share with you. His letter is as follows.

Dear Mr Gove,

I am a constituent of yours and have lived in Ash Vale for the last 20 years since I left the Army. In that time, I and my family have made almost daily use of Ash Ranges for exercise and recreation, including on the so called ‘Range Floors’ which are close to my house. Many, if not most, of your other constituents who live locally will have similarly enjoyed responsible access to this unique ‘green space’ when there is no firing. As you know this privilege, extant for many decades, was arbitrarily withdrawn on the instructions of the DIO in March of this year.

The DIOs reasons for this course of action were principally made on two grounds: firstly, that infrastructure within the ‘Range Floors’ was being damaged by vandals and secondly that members of the public were more likely to suffer injury in these areas, as there are steep drops and similar EH&S risks. Neither of these reasons is supported by evidence as seen from the DIO responses to exactly these questions when raised in FOI requests.

Behind a thin veil of spurious justification and some chicanery it seems the DIO and its contractors view themselves as sole arbiters in the matter. Arguments to the contrary or attempts to suggest alternative approaches by other stakeholders that might ‘bring the public on-board’ have been resisted in favour of a blinkered approach that serves only to alienate a local Community normally strongly supportive of the MOD.  Locking the gates and putting up ‘low security’ fencing will certainly not stop vandalism on the ‘Range Floors’ which continues unabated.

I will not re-visit the many community reasons you will already have heard for maintaining public access to the ‘Range Floors’. I simply wish to bring your attention to some arguments I have not seen aired, as well as some personal observations that I hope add context to the justification for access to all of Ash Ranges to be be restored when firing is not underway:

  1. While the active ‘Range Floors’ on the Western side of Ash Ranges are now fenced and gated, there is no similar program evident around the active ‘Range Floors’ on the Eastern side of the Ranges. Why not? Members of the public, vandals and fly tippers continue to frequent those areas unhindered. A consistent MOD policy should surely restrict access here as well.
  2. Over the years I have, on several occasions, confronted vandals and reported other suspicious behaviour and violations of range safety rules to the Ash Range Wardens, the military SE Operations Room, Aldershot Garrison and the MOD Police in Longmoor. On no occasion was significant interest forthcoming from any of these agencies beyond advising me not to confront anyone.
  3. I have also brought vandalism on the ranges to the attention of the Deputy Head of Ash Manor School as it was clear to me that school children from there were likely involved in an incident I came across. He was unaware of the ‘Ranges’ and their potential to attract the more adventurous of his charges. He confirmed from the photographic evidence I shared with him that pupils from the school were likely involved.
  4. Last Saturday morning I was detained by the MOD police on the ‘Range Floors‘whilst walking my dog. I had a perfectly amicable conversation with the two constables involved that mostly centred around the vexed question public servants sometimes find themselves in of having to implement policies they disagree with in order to ‘pay the mortgage’. In this context, they insisted I was committing an offence and that I was to leave the area immediately. They issued me a MOD 1601 form that in effect warns me off MOD Land for the heinous offence of ‘walking a dog in the Technical Area’ and further indicated I was liable to be arrested and summonsed should I ‘offend’ a second time in any capacity.

Bullet Points 1 to 3 above seem to indicate systemic failure on the part of the DIO to engage effectively with the local community, not to mention a distinct lack of enthusiasm on their part to do anything more than seek the laziest, least effective and, as far as the local community are concerned, most antagonistic approach to the problem of vandalism. As to their second assertion, there is no evidence that members of the public are at increased risk as a result of unsupervised access to the ‘Range Floors’. Bullet Point 4 indicates the DIO don’t care if formerly law-abiding and supportive members of the community become their implacable and determined opponents in the future.

I look forward to your comments on the above, especially in light of your statement that ’there is an urgent need to balance the needs of the MOD with the rights of people to enjoy this green space’; to which statement I would add, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.

Yours faithfully etc

Open Letter to the Leader of Ash Parish Council

One of our supporters, Barry, has had several emails to and from Nigel Manning, Chair of Ash Parish Council. As a result of getting increasingly frustrated with a lack of answers to his questions, he asked me if he could post his letter on the webpage in the hope that he might get some meaningful answers.

Dear Councillor Manning,

On 11 March this year you posted a notice on the Ash Parish Council website supporting the MOD’s decision to close the firing plates, and blamed your residents for the closure. On 24 August you told me – not your residents at large – “we continue to fight for the opening up of the RDA to gain more direct access to the ranges, especially for those who are less mobile.”

Questions;

1.         Why did you change your position on this matter?

2.         If you are fighting our cause why don’t you keep us informed of what you are doing? Why are you so reluctant to communicate with us? Why the secrecy? You of all people should know that to keep people on board you need to keep them regularly informed.

3.         Why not respond to this letter on this facebook site and follow up with regular progress reports? For example, why didn’t you record the important meeting, subsequently cancelled, that had been arranged with the MOD on activities etc. on this and the APC website?

4.         Will you confirm you will be joining the Open Meeting on 16 September?

5.         In your email to me you said you would be fighting for “…more direct access to the ranges, especially for those who are less mobile.” What does this mean? Does it mean fenced off corridors directly to the cattle growing area and meaning we will not be able to roam over the firing plates?  If so, I suggest residents will not find it acceptable.

6.         Why don’t you understand all we want is to be able to walk again through the avenues of beech and sweet chestnut trees grown in Queen Victoria’s reign for us as well as the military – and we are prepared to push hard for this?

Barry

An Open meeting with Gove and MOD/DIO

Carl Cookson, who helps run the Save Ash Ranges facebook group, has arranged a virtual open meeting for local residents along with councillors, MOD/DIO representatives and Michael Gove. The MOD have always steered clear of any direct dialogue with local residents so this is a rare opportunity to ask them questions regarding the Ranges closure and listen to their information regarding their plans..

Carl has also produced a flyer which can be downloaded here.

The meeting will be held virtually at 7pm 16th September and can be access using the link bit.ly/AshRangesMeeting

We look forward to seeing then and thanks for your support.