Since the site went live several weeks ago, I am pleased to report that some progress has been made.
My original intention was to break the silence between the MoD and the Parish Council who had been un-successful with repeated attempts for a meeting with the MoD/DIO on the future of the ranges.
Through a combination of the website and Parish councillors along with contact from local residents to Michael Gove MP, including myself, the DIO (MoD Defence Infrastructure Organisation) have broken their silence.
There have been several things happening during the same period, so I’ve divided, them here:
In March/April there were a number of emails between myself and Michael Gove MP that culminated in Michael phoning me to discuss the issue. I had previously raised concerns via email (see here) to Michael Gove (copying in local councillors) on 10th January 2020 when the new gates were first erected. At the time, I had been told by a staff member on the front gate that the MoD were forcing them to close off access to the public. Michael Gove passed on these concerns to Ben Wallace MP (Defence Secretary) for his comment. The response I received on 12th March 2020 from Jeremy Quin MP (Minister of State for Defence Procurement) (see here) ignored most of my points and simply mentioned the vandalism. I had raised with Michael that I had witnessed the vandalism by approx. 6 teenagers as it was being done and reported to the front gate by phone only to receive the reply “not our problem mate”.
I subsequently made contact with Michael Gove MP on 3rd April 2020 (see here) again via email. I received a response from his assistant the same day (see here) saying he had written to Jeremy Quin MP to bring the allegations and comments I had made along with comments from parish councillors to his attention. I chased a number of times since then but do understand that Michael was rather busy with the COVID-19 situation. I received a further email from his assistant (see here) on 4th May 2020 that Michael Gove MP and Jeremy Quin MP were in the process of arranging a meeting.
MoD DIO (Defence Infrastructure Organisation)
Within 10 days of the website going live and 2 rounds of fixing signs advertising the site to the range fences and gates next to the MoD signs I received contact, through the site, from the DIO. I received an email on 20th April from the DIO’s Deputy Security and Public Access Officer the are trying to initiate contact between myself and the MOD DIO. I was subsequently invited to a call, over skype, between the DIO, local councillors and myself.
We had a 75 minute skype call, attendees include Lt Col “Dickie” Bishop who has overall responsibility for MoD land in the south and is based out of Longmoor. We had an open discussion with parties given ample opportunity to speak. Outcomes of the call were:
- The decision to close the ranges due to COVID-19 was taken on government’s advice to protect MoD contractor staff and the public from the risk of transmission via hard surfaces.
- They recognised that their communication had been poor. They have been looking at changes to the bylaws and were planning a public consultation in April, but the COVID-19 situation had changed things. Had the communication been better people, like myself, may not have been so unhappy with their actions.
- As an immediate measure they had moved all military training to the closed ranges at Pirbright so that access to the still open parts (outside the danger area) was unrestricted. This change is temporary and only in effect until middle of May. They have subsequently put up signs advertising this.
- In the summer of 2019, there was a significant period of vandalism which:
- caused massive damage to the banks behind the targets on several ranges. These are vital to the stopping of bullets during firing
- resulted in the ranges being closed to military training for 5 days
- cost approx. £171k to repair
- The DIO are looking at ways they can maintain access to the ranges whilst protect its property.
- As another measure they are looking at widening the path on the outside of the fence, at the pinch points by the canal and near to the doctor’s surgery.
- With help from councillors, links will be established between MoD and civilian police.
- Follow-up meetings would be held to keep lines of communication open.
Whilst this hasn’t resulted in re-gaining public access to all areas there is at least dialogue happening. I am hopeful that better communication between DIO and civilian police will help to tackle the vandalism. No vandalism should ever be tolerated.
In the past couple of days, the DIO has reached out to me to see if I would like a face to face follow-up meeting on site. I am hoping that this will happening in the coming week and will post a further update on this.
Email and Facebook
I always knew and expected that the site would divide opinion. I am pleased to say that the website has achieved at least part of what I had hoped and have received a lot of local support and interest.
Unfortunately, I am disappointed to report that there is a small minority of people who have sent emails or posted comments on Facebook of a semi-threatening/semi-abusive nature. It is one thing to say I disagree and here are my reasons, but personal attacks really should not be tolerated.
Whilst I have taken steps to protect my identity (the above proving it was necessary), I am not a keyboard warrior hiding behind a computer writing whatever I want. I have taken active steps to break the silence and create a dialogue between the DIO and local councillors. This has been achieved and the DIO were grateful for my actions.
I respect the work of the MOD/DIO and do not condone vandalism to their property. Nor do I agree with lazy people not clearing up after their dogs as this is unacceptable too.
I am a local resident who just wishes to be able to use the ranges, when not in use by the MoD, as I have for the last seven years.
I would like to thank all those who have either emailed or posted on Facebook in a non-threatening manner. After all everyone is entitled to their opinion!