Category: update

My right to protest

As you will have probably seen, over the past few days there has been an MoD police presence on the ranges. In fact, in the 7 years I have lived in Ash Vale (and within visible distance of the main gates) I have never seen an MoD police car patrolling the ranges. That has all changed in the last week.

This is a clear indication that the MoD, rather than trying to prevent vandalism (otherwise they would have started patrols months or even years ago) are in fact looking to catch anyone inside the contested closed off Ash Range Complex.

I myself do wander across there from time to time, with my dog, ensuring I clear up any poo she decides to leave behind. This area is a beautiful, local, natural resource that we all should be able to access (except when firing), but are denied through the thoughtless and illegal (we will prove this sometime soon) closure of the range complex. Our right to recreation is protected in the Byelaws.

As locals who have been wrongly denied access, we do have the right to lawful protest. I sometimes access the range complex and do so as an act of lawful protest. I only do this when the flags are down and the ranges un-attended as provided for in the current byelaws. I now carry a copy of the below wording with me so that if I am stopped I can show that I am protesting.

Please note this is not legal advice, but will help to explain, if stopped, why you are there and that your intentions are peaceful. A copy can be downloaded here,

I am not a vandal. My presence here is as a deliberate act of personal and public protest against the current access situation at Ash Ranges.

I intend to take part in an organized protest against the unjustified closure of Ash Ranges. Cycling or walking constitutes not only the manner and form of my protest, but also the essence, nature and quality of my protest. Cycling or walking both constitutes and is inseparable from the message of my protest.

The right to peaceful protest is enshrined in law, and any attempt to restrict my right to protest either personally or as part of a group amounts to an unjustifiable interference with my rights under articles 10 and 11 of The Human Rights Act 1998.

My protest is designed to be as un-intrusive as possible, and it is not my intention to interfere in any way with any lawful activities. If at any time I become aware of disturbance to any lawful activities or conflict with protected wildlife or a nature conservation site in my vicinity, I will move on immediately to avoid continuing that disturbance.

I maintain that my presence and protest here cause no more disturbance, damage, harm or interruption than the right of access that was permitted prior to the closure of this area.

The Byelaws protect access for all, not restrict it.

A lot of work is happening behind the scenes on all aspects of the closure, the byelaws, the law and the behaviour of MPs, councillors and the MOD. You may see that I have recently switched to using the term MOD instead of DIO. In short this is because although the Ranges are run and the closure initiated by the DIO, they are a department within the MOD and thus accountable to the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace MP.

After some careful consideration over the weekend, Simon (one of our founding supporters) presented the case to me that the primary purpose and overarching theme of the byelaws (Ash Ranges 1983 and Aldershot and District Military Lands 1976) is to protect access for Military use whilst also protecting the right for recreation when not in use for military purposes. Having carefully reviewed this I totally agree with his opinion. If this wasn’t the case then there wouldn’t be a need for byelaws protecting the right of use for recreation.

The actions of the MOD in keeping a significant part of the ranges closed when not in use goes against both the spirit and the intent of the byelaws.

So we feel yet another letter, sent by as many people as possible, to Michael Gove MP, making this point is a worth while exercise. We know that Michael is beginning to listen and take note of what is happening. The recent farce with the new signs has certainly grabbed his interest. The more information he has and the more of his potential voters (irrespective of your actual political views) that contact him, the more he will take note.

I ask if you could spend 2 minutes to email the below letter to Michael to highlight the situation? The more emails he gets the better. He wont read every email but this is about the number of constituents that email him on this topic.

A template email is below.

To: “GOVE, Michael” michael.gove.mp@parliament.uk

Subject: Ash Ranges Byelaws protect access for all.

Dear Michael Gove,

I am writing to you requesting your immediate intervention into the closure of part of Ash Ranges. As you know, since March the MOD have prohibited access to a significant part of the ranges.

Two byelaws (Ash Ranges Byelaws 1983 and Aldershot and District Military Lands Byelaws 1976) are relevant to Ash Ranges and both have clear statements about when they may be used for recreation.

Section 2 of the Aldershot byelaws explicitly grants access for recreational use when not in use for military purposes.

Section 3 of the Ash Ranges byelaws defines the “Danger Area” where access is prohibited when in use for military firing, which must be and is marked by red flags. This section also defines the location of poles where red flags (and red lights for night shoots) must be erected to indicate that the danger area is in use.

DIO/MOD have imposed restrictions on 340 acres of land with over 10 miles of trails within the scope of area as defined by Section 3, permanently preventing recreational access at all times and irrespective of military use.

This is contrary to the provisions set out in the byelaws and contravenes both the spirit and intent of the byelaws. Had such draconian restrictions deemed necessary then the 1983 (Ash) or 1976 (Aldershot) byelaws would have included such provisions. Clearly they do not.

To date MOD/DIO have been unable to substantiate their claims of safety and vandalism as good reason to block recreation with hard evidence. We therefore assert these actions have gone beyond what Parliament intended when the byelaws were enacted. The area is a public asset and has been used for over a century to deliver not only valuable military training but also considerable public benefit and this must continue.

I therefore ask that you urgently request that the Secretary of State for Defence issues a clear Ministerial directive and insists MOD/DIO remove all restrictions on recreation within the Ash Range complex with immediate effect.

Yours Sincerely,

<Your FullName>

<Your Postal address>

Press Release

Peter Corns, one of our founding supporters has shared this editorial with us. A copy can also be downloaded here.

“Unlawful” MoD Lock-Out Puts Homes at Risk of Wildfire Destruction

Residents near Ash Ranges are terrified that a wildfire could destroy their homes. As temperatures continue their record-breaking levels, they fear that a Chobham Common-type wildfire outbreak could be devastating.

Local resident Peter Corns says “The lock-out of access to the Ash Ranges Floor by the MoD without any consultation has already caused a lot of anger in our community. We don’t believe that their reasons stand up to scrutiny, and that the restriction of access is not fair, reasonable, or lawful and is prejudicial to the disabled.”

“In 2018 we were lucky. A wildfire on Ash Ranges was spotted by a local resident while walking on the ranges who noticed the flames and alerted the Fire Service. The fire was controlled before properties were threatened”.
“I also reported a fire above the Range Firing Butts in 2019 while walking on the Range Floors complex and the fire brigade put that out before it could spread”.

Ash Ranges Wildfire September 2018 (Image: Surrey Fire & Rescue)

In December 2019, a new gate and fence were erected at the Range Floor main entrance on Heathvale Bridge Road. In March 2020 a further 6 gates were padlocked together with a disabled access gate to lock-out residents, initially justified as due to COVID-19, a story that was later dropped.

Ash Vale residents are concerned that now the public are locked-out from the areas nearest their homes, there is a much greater risk of a spontaneous wildfire being undetected to the point that it is uncontrollable. Previously they had been able to act as ‘ears and eyes’ for the MOD when the range floors were not in use.

Residents believe the MoD action has increased the risk of an uncontrolled wildfire.

The consequences of an uncontrolled wildfire on Ash Ranges compared with that recently on Chobham Common, which reached the national news, are quite stark:

• Ash Ranges is more than twice the size of Chobham Common (3,440 vs 1620 acres).

• Ash Vale has a dense population of > 4000 on the borders of the Ranges, compared with the sparse number of properties in potential danger of a Chobham Common fire.

• Chobham common is relatively flat; Ash Ranges is extremely hilly, and parts are virtually inaccessible to conventional Fire Fighting Machines. Chobham Common’s fire required additional water supplies sourced through temporary pipes put in place over the M3. It is unclear where Ash Ranges would source such additional water supplies from.

Temporary water pipes across M3 Longcross bridge to tackle August 2020 Chobham Common wildfire

Surrey Heath MP Michael Gove has visited one of the locked gates and expressed his support, but local residents are demanding that action to reverse the lock-out takes place now, before the seasonal fire risk peaks.

The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) who manage training areas such as Ash Ranges on behalf of the MoD have used the excuse that the lock-out is to reduce the risk of vandalism. The evidence is that this strategy has back-fired, with the official data confirming that there has been an increased rate of vandalism since the lock-out was instigated on 1st April.
Residents are demanding an urgent review of the lock-out, with an immediate suspension of the lock-out to mitigate the wildfire risk consequences pending further review and consultation.

Contact Details:
Peter Corns

Michael Gove – Please take action

It has been 5 months since DIO closed access without good reason. The space was vital for lockdown and remains a precious natural resource for recreation as much as it is needed for military training. The proposed path will not replace 340 acres and 10 miles of tracks and trails – these are vital for physical and mental health – and its clear more people use the now closed area than the 88% remaining open. The closure has impacted the lives of thousands and DIO remain unaccountable for this.

If you share these views then please email Michael and copy in the various MPs, councillors and MoD representatives listed below. Let’s show them just how many people think enough is enough.  Let’s stand our ground and show them how many people care about the campaign to reinstate access.

I have included a template email for you to use if you wish. Please send this email your own words:

To: michael.gove.mp@parliament.uk;

Cc: wallaceb@parliament.ukjeremy.quin.mp@parliament.ukrichard.bishop727@mod.gov.uk; nigel.manning@guildford.gov.uk; jo.randall@guildford.gov.uk; Roger.Owen903@mod.gov.uk; Mark.Ludlow100@mod.gov.uk; Ian.Davies336@mod.gov.uk

Subject: AshRanges – Please take action

Dear Michael,

I am writing to you in your capacity as Member of Parliament for Surrey Heath to express my concern over the lack of any meaningful action regarding the unjust and discriminating closure of part of Ash Ranges. Local residents such as I have been patiently waiting for councillors and MPs to take action against the MoD for their unacceptable behaviour in this matter, yet no meaningful action has happened and the gates remain locked at all times irrespective of the dangers.

We do not need more letters from the MoD, Jeremy Quin, DIO or councillors containing statements that remain unsubstantiated by evidence. We do not need expressions of concern about the issue. All politicians must understand the actions of DIO are unjustified and any agreement suggesting a path is an acceptable compromise will not replace the 340 acres and 10 miles of trails we have lost. The 12% of space we are now excluded from was used by more people (3400 reported using this area during a recent survey) than the wider danger area. To suggest the 88% accessible as a suitable alternative demonstrates a fundamental lack of knowledge regarding actual use and completely overlooks the fact DIO have restricted car parking and blocked access to areas they claim will remain open, thus preventing many from being able to access the lands at all.

What we need is direct and immediate action to fully re-instate recreational access to all parts of the ranges that local residents have enjoyed since the ranges were first developed in the 1850s. For 170 years local residents and the MoD (including its predecessors) have shared the ranges in harmony. When the flags are up locals can’t enter, when the flags are down, they can.  

Whilst the local community feel very aggrieved by the actions of DIO there remains – for now – a strong desire to work with the organisation, to ensure the ranges are accessible, reduce vandalism and meet their training needs. Cooperation would deliver a far better outcome for all and is likely to be more cost effective in the long term.

This issue is not going away and requires political leadership and Ministerial direction, to express the will of the people and ensure DIO are held fully to account for the impact they have imposed on the lives of thousands.

Yours Sincerely.

<NAME>

Why won’t the parish council listen?

Another local resident left disadvataged by and disgruntled with the closure wrote an email to MPs, local councillors and the DIO to air her views. Michelle shared the email with me and agreed that I could share this on the site. I have removed her surname and email address to protect her privacy. Another great email from a local-resident, in her own words. Thank you for sharing Michelle.

From: Michelle
Date: Friday, 7 August 2020 at 16:02
To: <nigel.manning@guildford.gov.uk>, <jo.randall@guildford.gov.uk>
Cc: <wallaceb@parliament.uk>, <jeremy.quin.mp@parliament.uk>, <richard.bishop727@mod.gov.uk>
Subject: Closure of Ash Ranges Floor Area.

Dear Councillors, MP’s and Ministers,
I am writing to you to implore you to enter into a meaningful discussion on the access to the range floor area, to follow is the letter I have also sent to my local MP Mr Gove.

My family and I have been residents of Ash Vale for 10 years now and chose to move here because of it’s proximity to the wide open spaces of the Ranges. It came up on our house survey that we should be aware of the proximity of the firing area, but we made a conscious decision that the disruption of the noise, heavy vehicles and helicopters was more than offset by having the option to walk on the ranges when the flags were down.

My son, along with generations of local children learnt to ride his bike on the range floor. There are no other safe, traffic free places for children to learn if you don’t live in a cul-de-sac. We have started school projects up there, seen amazing wildlife and boosted our physical and mental health. I work at the local primary school whose children regularly visit for walking, riding and nature watching. It was a free resource that was within easy walking distance, available to all regardless of age, mobility or wealth.

Two years ago we got our first dog and have come to appreciate the range floor area even more. I have got to know my neighbours and fellow dog walkers through regular use of this area, we as a family have felt part of a community. At the start of lockdown our level of appreciation skyrocketed, we were able to have meaningful walks through stunning countryside just five minutes from our front door. We were able to practice social distancing yet also keep an eye on others in our local community. With so many access points it was easy and practical and allowed us to adhere to the “no non-essential driving” advice whilst still getting great exercise and fresh air, so vital for physical and mental health.

When Landmark closed all of the gates during lockdown we understood there reasoning to a degree, they had to protect the area from contamination, the gates were a high touch area. I’ll admit to being devastated as it meant we were unable to walk on the ranges as it takes us 25 minutes to get to our closest gates now. Under the, one hours exercise guidelines, it was too far to get there and back and have a meaningful walk. When it became apparent that COVID was a convenient opportunity to close the gates permanently I’ll admit to sitting and crying. Not a very adult reaction but a genuine one. I have bumped into many local residents as we now walk the narrow, uneven paths of the perimeter that are equally devastated. One lady said to me prior to the last Bank Holiday, “I have walked on the ranges every Bank Holiday for the last 30 years, what am I going to do now?” A huge community resource has been lost, without any discussion, change of byelaw or option to discuss compromise.

We value the range floor area on many levels and if offers so much to so many members of the community, that an unelected, seeming unaccountable organisation like to DIO can unilaterally decide to withdraw this from us feels wholly unjust. I have seen their arguments that they are not obligated to provide public access, that they are doing this for our safety etc. but where is the real evidence of this? There argument that 88% of the ranges is still available is a nonsense. If you drive over the ranges from either Ash Vale or Mytchett towards Pirbright a concerted effort has been made to block every verge to prevent parking. Are the DIO going to provide car parks to enable us to access this space? What about those who are unable to drive or do not have the stamina to walk a considerable distance before even accessing it. Walkers and cyclists using the ranges is a deterrent to antisocial behaviour, if we see something untoward we are able to report it. The gates and fences will do nothing to keep anyone intent on mischief out, instead they are much more likely to cause greater damage as the area will be poorly monitored.

I implore you to find a way to block this unjust action robustly. It has all gone through in advance of any byelaw reviews and has left me wondering what is the point of local councillors and national government when such a significant change can be made without any accountability.

In conclusion, we have to fight for our green spaces they are vital for our communities and our mental and physical health. It’s not about statistics, about how much they are going to allow us to have, once again on their terms, the combination of paths and different types of habitat is unique in the range floor area and should remain a community asset. We don’t doubt the importance of the range as a training area for the military but we need to be supportive neighbours to each other rather than the DIO acting with impunity.

Many thanks in advance for your attention in this matter.

Kind Regards,

Michelle

A letter to Ash Parish Council

Since the closure of the ranges back at the end of March Ash Parish Council have been relatively quiet on the topic. They have made a couple of announcements, most recently that they have agreement with the DIO to improve the path around the perimeter (apart from the most widely used and most dangerous part which have been ignored).

It is my opinion that the council have failed in their duty to hold the DIO to account for their actions and its impact on local residents. Further more they are willing to accept a compromise which leaves local residents far worse of than before and gives the DIO exactly what they want. We also know that councillors are doing everything they can to avoid the issue. I am sure they believe that it is just 1 or 2 people that are annoyed with the closure.

So we need to show them the stregth of feeling and I am asking for your help to do this. If you would like to help I am asking for you to email the councillors but copy in the DIO (Lt Col Bishop), Michael Gove MP, Jeremy Quin MP (Secretery of state for defence procurement) and Ben Wallace (Secretary of state for defence). Please also feel free, if you would like to copy me in the website, james@ashranges.com. I would like electronically print all of the emails and send to Michael Gove along with lots of other information.

Below is a template email we have written if you would like to use it for write your own if you prefer.

To: nigel.manning@guildford.gov.uk; jo.randall@guildford.gov.uk

CC: michael.gove.mp@parliament.uk; wallaceb@parliament.uk; jeremy.quin.mp@parliament.uk; richard.bishop727@mod.gov.uk

Subject: AshRanges – Action Required

Dear Nigel Manning and Jo Randall,

I am writing to you to express my deep dissatisfaction with the current situation regarding the closure of an important section of Ash Ranges. I am very concerned with the lack of action and resident representation by Ash Parish Council on this matter, despite local residents making their views and objections to DIOs actions absolutely clear.

DIO have unilaterally imposed these restrictions, using COVID-19 as an excuse. Ash Parish Council are responsible for ensuring all parties adhere to local byelaws, yet in this instance the council have merely accepted the situation and have taken no constructive action against DIO. The now closed range area was regularly used by over 3000 people and their lives are now negatively impacted, and whilst DIO may well claim the other 88% remains available the 12% we have lost was the most accessible and valuable area. I am sure you will agree it is unacceptable for a public body to act in this manner.

In the 4 months since the closure, APC have only managed to secure from the DIO re-assurances to make minor improvements to the existing path around part of the perimeter. This compromise is severely lacking and completely unacceptable, yet it does demonstrate how little DIO understand recreational users of the lands. The now closed range area is approximately 340 acres in size yet contains 10 miles of road, tracks and trails. To think a simple perimeter path could replace such a loss is beyond the boundaries of acceptable compromise. It is insulting to think such a compromise would ever be considered acceptable to APC or Ash residents.  

The only real issue is the closure of the ranges and the only action that needs to be taken is the re-instatement of access to all parts of the ranges. The DIO have repeatedly misled councillors, MPs and the public as demonstrated by the different FOI responses which counter their untrue claims e.g. on vandalism and public safety. All that is happening is that the DIO continue to be unaccountable for their actions.

Following a survey of people we know that before the closure the 12% was more widely used by local residents than the 88% the DIO have left open. As a local resident, I am deeply concerned with both the DIO’s behaviour but also Ash Parish Council’s lack of action to tackle the issue. APC must represent the will of the electorate; to cease discussions of paths and compromise and to press for the urgent reopening of the range area.  Any future compromise with DIO can only be reached after access is restored and in full, otherwise continued goodwill and cooperation is at risk. Thereafter consultation and any good faith negotiations with local residents as to how DIO’s concerns can be addressed may proceed.  The ranges and recreational access is part of what makes Ash special. For APC to act against the wider interests of residents is unacceptable and I call on the council members to robustly represent the community on this matter.

Your Sincerely

Our campaign hits the press

I am pleased to report that our campaign has started to receive interest from the media. The first article went live on the Guildford Dragon news site yesterday afternoon. The article can be accessed here.

There is nothing else I really need to say other than to say a massive thank you to everyone who has given their support to the campaign. It is as a result of the joint action from all of us that we are beginning to see a change in attitude including amongst MPs, who ultimately will be the ones to force the DIO’s hand should we be successful in our aims.

A conversation with Michael Gove MP

Following his visit to the ranges on Friday morning I, as i know a few other locals did, received a phone call as promised from Michael Gove MP. This is the second time he has phoned me regarding the website and the campaign to re-open all of the ranges.

It appears he has started to take notice of the issue following the efforts of a nunber of residents including myself. We know he has received numerous emails on this topic, driven partly by the website. My thanks go to everyone who has taken time to email Michael Gove and give their view of the closure. It is clear that his eyes have been opened not just to the closure and the effect this is having on locals, but also the mis-information that the DIO are spreading to all, including MPs.

During my call I made the following points:

  • The DIO:
    • have repeatedly withheld information as well as passing on false information to MPs. – We know this from statements they and MPs have made compared to FOIs raised including:
      • £171,000 of vandelism in 2019 yet FOI showed not vandalism on record.
      • Public safety issues – according to records gained from an FOI the only accident was a member of troops whilst on training in the ranges.
      • A fatality on the ranges was deemed by the DIO as a “non-serious incident” as stated in the data provided by an FOI.
      • In April 2020, according to DIO data from an FOI, there was a serious incident involving “armory/ammunition” and a non-compliance issue. What is this and why has this not been mentioned? Either the armory was left unlocked or firing safety rules were not followed. What this shows is the DIO can’t be responsible for maintaining the safety on the ranges they control
    • are unwilling to engage with local residents, an identical tactic employed by Ash Parish Council.
    • haven’t conducted any assessment of the impact on local residents.
    • are unwilling to publish any figures such as safety incidents, cost of vandelism they claim contrary to the point above.
  • The “12%” closure disadvantages those less mobile meaning that the ranges are now 100% accessible.
  • A discussion based upon the military lands survey.
  • How the DIO need to engage with the rules and laws and be accountable to the general public.

Michael Gove has contacted Jeremy Quin again and has promised to update me personally within 2 weeks. I will post an update as soon as I get this information although he will also put the update on his facebook page.

What we have been denied access to?

We have been denied access for so long that I had forgotton just how beautiful the closed part of the ranges is. It also reminded me just how much of a shame it is that the DIO think local residents shouldn’t be able to enjoy this amazing outdoor space.

Thanks to our friends over at www.Trekview.org I was able to map most of the area that has been closed off since the start of lockdown with a 360 degree camera. The results can be found here where you can view the area for yourself and see what the DIO are trying to prevent all of us from accessing.

Despite having walked almost 5 miles, in the wrong shoes, I felt re-invigorated after the walk. Not because I jumped a gate, or did something the DIO are trying to stop, but because i was able to enjoy the most accessable parts of the ranges and on such a lovely evening. Time outdoors like this has never been as important as it has been during the pandemic. A wide open space which people could enjoy, without having to drive and without being in close proximity of others thus able to social-distance. I personally think it is criminal that local residents are being denied access to this wondeful recreational area.

It’s worth noting that I did this on sunday evening, the flags were down, the ranges were not in use and the front office was locked. So there were no safety issues and my presence was not impeeding any DIO or MoD activities in any way. I did jump over a locked gate but I did so in protest to the DIO’s actions of denying public access for recreation, which is protected and has been since the ranges were first established in the 1850s.

The full link is below. Please feel free to forward to friends, family, councillors and politicians and remind them of your views on the closure, if you like.

https://www.mapillary.com/app/user/trekviewhq?lat=51.26549444444444&lng=-0.7112441666666667&z=17&tab=uploads&pKey=IzouhRtynvICCjoxdrycWM&focus=photo&x=0.5992931756909465&y=0.5330457146115604&zoom=0.3884145944874469&menu=false

Recreation use of Aldershot Military Lands

Our friends over at Byelaws Review have posted a short survey to discover how we use the military lands that surround our communities. We know that the DIO have made no attempts to assess the use of the lands for recreational use or the impact to local residents from closing off access to parts of the ranges.

As the byelaw review consultation approaches, it has never been more important to be able to articulate to DIO and our MPs how important the lands are to us.

Unfortunately there is very little information available on how our communities actually use the land – most of the information focuses on the antisocial acts of the irresponsible few.

By completing the survey you’ll be helping to ensure that the consultation can focus on how responsible users make use of the lands and their importance to our communities.

The survey can be found here