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.
Date: Friday, 7 August 2020 at 16:02
To: <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>
Cc: <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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.