Category: update

Has democratic process failed us (29/6/2020)

For months many of us have have been contacting and lobbying councillors and MPs about the situation at Ash Ranges and the DIO’s behaviour. Whilst we have gained a lot of local support, and for that we are very grateful, our experience of politicians seems to be that they say the right things but then unfortunately go silent and do nothing.

A couple of weeks ago I was in contact with Michael Gove’s senior assistant, ahead of his meeting last Monday with Ben Wallace, to pass on FOI responses that show the DIO have lied (again) about the vandalism to the complex. He has yet to come back to me. Even today I was in contact with his office asking for a quote or statement to go with this post, again no response.

Weekend before last I emailed Nigel Manning (chair of Ash Parish Council). He was very upset that I thought the council were ineffective on this topic, yet 10 minutes later one of my neighbours who has lived in Ash Vale for 30+ years said “well the council just sit on their hands”. I haven’t heard from Ash Parish Council since. They seem to believe that by being promised by the DIO to get notice of the publication of the consultation on the changes of the byelaws they have made some significant progress. Yet the most accessable parts of the ranges, closed for safety of DIO staff during COVID-19 (according the DIO post on the APC website) is still closed to the detriment of all local residents and especially those who are less mobile, see ( https://www.ashranges.com/?p=135).

If you are disappointed by the situation with Ash Ranges and the efforts, or lack of, from Michael Gove or local councillors please write to them to let them know. The more people they hear from the more likely they are to listen.

One person who has written to Michael Gove again today is a long-term local resident, loyal supporter and admin of the “Save Ash Ranges” facebook group Peter Corns. He has shared a copy of his letter to help inspire others. Well done and thank you to Peter. Please see below:


An open letter to Michael Gove Member of Parliament Surrey Heath.

Dear Mr. Gove,

I am writing to raise your awareness regarding significant anti-social behaviour which has taken place within your constituency.

As you are aware anti-social behaviours are actions that harm or lack consideration for the wellbeing of others and are considered to be disruptive to others in society. Indeed, the Crime and Disorder Act (1998) defines ASB; Acting in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons…

The anti-social behaviour I refer to is the action carried out by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation when they closed off public access to the Ash Ranges Floor within your constituency.

This has had a dramatic impact on our community, especially for those with reduced mobility who now find padlocks in place – even on a wheelchair access (Radar) gate.

I have provided you with documentation clearly showing the DIO claims for closure are unsubstantiated and your senior parliamentary assistant gave assurance that these issues would again be raised by you to Ben Wallace. I was also advised that you are aware of the strength of feeling and understand how important access is to the residents.

To say that I was disappointed with the outcome of your meeting with Ben Wallace would be a gross understatement. Although we are grateful that pressure has been applied to ensure adequate public consultation on the Byelaws Review, there was not one mention of the closure of Ash Ranges Floor!

Where was your challenge on this Mr. Gove?

We live in a democracy and it was not only wrong for the DIO to initially prohibit access but also undeniably clear that their action should not be allowed to perpetuate.

The byelaws currently in place should be observed and public access returned; the promised byelaws consultation should provide an adequate platform for the DIO to argue their case for closure although their claims relating to vandalism and safety have been shown to be unsubstantiated.

I have made a proposal to the DIO for consideration of a ‘Citizen Warden Scheme’ which could provide a cost-free solution and maintain public access, there has been no response to that proposal.

You are aware that I have requested a meeting with you, video or telephone, to discuss this situation.

Please Mr. Gove, show us your teeth and bite into this travesty, your constituents are watching!!

Peter Corns.

Why 12% is in fact 100% for some.

The DIO have repeatedly argued that the “Ash Range Complex” which they have permanently closed public access to represents a mere 12% of the total ranges. The nearest open gates, that give access to the remaining 88% are only a 1 mile walk away.

For most this is fine and merely an inconvenience but for those who have mobility issues the route to the nearest open gate is to hazardous to travel. The DIO claim they have done work to open up these paths. What this actually means is they have cut back the vegetation (which is growing back again) but done nothing to increase the width or quality of the path which in some places consist of a flat portion only 40cm wide.

The end result, for those with mobility issues, is that the 12% closure means access to the ranges has been completely cut off. Heather Johnson is one such affected local resident, having lived in the area for many years, whom the DIO had made access easier for her, only to remove this at the start of lockdown. Heather kindly agreed to tell her story in her own words.

My name is Heather Johnson and I have lived in Ash Vale for 52 years.  We now live in our third house in the village and like our present house, our previous two had easy access to the Ranges.  We have always enjoyed our walks on the Ranges, even before we had dogs!  The Range is a very special place and loved and enjoyed by most of the population in the area.

A few years ago, a severe back problem reduced my ability to walk, and my walking on the Ranges gradually reduced until I was unable to go for a walk anymore.  At that time, I got a lovely tough mobility scooter, but had to go down to the road opposite the doctors so that we could wiggle the scooter under the bar, which was not easy.  So I wrote to the MOD asking if the gate closest to us (the one by the house on Enfield Road called Ivanhoe) could be changed from a wooden kiss gate to one that opened, so that I could access the Ranges.  Much to my delight and surprise they said they would and a representative came out and measured up our gate and very quickly installed a gate that, with the use of a radar key, could swing open wide enough for me to get onto the Ranges on my scooter.  I was over the moon then and stayed that way until the MOD suddenly decided to lock the gates just after Lockdown began.  I, and I imagine other people in my position or with limited mobility, was devastated!  The gates that are open and closest to us are far too far away to get to BEFORE starting our ‘walk’.  So, although we are told that we have only lost 12% of the area, for people like me it is actually 100% of the area that is most accessible to us.  My only alternative is the perimeter path, but it is full of tree roots, which is not only uncomfortable, but in places very dangerous as I could easily tip.  So not one I pursue often.  It really is very depressing as I cannot go out with our dogs and I miss this terribly.

I have written several letters to various bodies, but like others, up till now had been unable to get the address of the person responsible. I have just been given and address for the DIO, so will get penning!

I have registered that I would be happy to attend a demonstration.  I would be more than happy to join a peaceful trespass, but wouldn’t be able to climb over the gate!  I urge as many people as possible to campaign for the re-opening of the Ranges.  It is the only way we stand any chance at all of getting any access back.  If you are not prepared to fight, then you will have to be prepared to lose it!  I refer you to what happened on Kinder Scout!

FOI shows DIO don’t care about locals (15/6/2020)

On Friday I received a response to a freedom of information request I had raised with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation. The question was simple, “Please could you provide a copy of all impact assement reports created between 1/1/2015 and today 18/5/2020 relating to the effects on local residents from the closure, planned or actual, of the Range Floors or any part of the Ash Ranges. The range floors have also been termed by the DIO as Technical Floors and Ash Range complex

I wanted to see what, if any, impact assessments had been conducted to look at the impact on the local residents on permanently closing the most accessible 12% of the ranges. The DIO know that there is a large number of local residents whose mobility limits their ability to walk to walk on uneven, thin paths. I can say this as I told them on a phone call with local councillors in back in March.

The result of the FOI, (see here) no impact assessments have been conducted between 1/1/2015 and 18/5/2020.

Another blatent demonstration of how the DIO don’t care about the local population who have access all of the ranges, when the flags are down, since they ranges were first created back in 1885.

Update 9/6/2020

Firstly I’d like to apologise for the lack of updates in recent weeks. Things have been busy and we have been working in the background to gather more facts and raise local awareness of the site, what has happened to the ranges and our goals.

Michael Gove MP and local councillors have come under increased pressure to take the issue of reduced access seriously. This is an issue which some may seem as an incovenience but there are many people with mobility issues which means access to the ranges is no longer possible. There is also the matter of whether the DIO can restrict access in the way they have and whether their behaviour of silence at points and mis-information at others is appropriate from a state funded department. The mis-information hasnt just been to the public or council but also to high-ranking MPs such as Michael Gove MP.

I heard from one of Michael’s assistants yesterday that he is taking the issue back to Jeremy Quin for the 3rd time. My suggestion that he comes to visit the area and see the problem first hand seems to be falling on deaf ears but i will keep making the offer.

From my own dealings with the DIO I would describe them as an organisation who do what they want, without a sense of accountability and try to stay out of the public eye as much as possible. With the Ranges, as with large parts of land in the area, they have set their plan and nothing will allow them to deviate from it. They say they are open to ideas but no idea is achievable. The active range floors can’t be fenced off as that would introduce a risk of ricochet, despite some of the ranges already having metal ences down parts of them or large metal electrical boxes. Surely these are ricochet risks too.

Our friends over at https://trailactiongroup.co.uk/ have published a position paper on the byelaws review. Trail Action Group (TAG) believes the byelaws review is a perfect opportunity to achieve a positive working relationship between recreational users and DIO, to preserve both the primacy of a space for military training whilst respecting the benefits of recreational access when the lands are not in use. We think this is a great piece of work and challenges the idea that the DIO can change the rules as they see fit.

Jeremy Quin response (22/5/2020)

So yesterday evening I received an email from Michael Gove’s senior assistant with a response from Jeremy Quin MP to some questions I raised back in the late part of March. This was where my story with the Range closure and the DIO started. Not a lot to write home about, the wording is very similar to the response on Michael Gove’s facebook page. You wont be surprised that it doesnt tackle the issue of accessibility for the elderly and those less able to can’t easily get to the nearest unlocked gate to access the remaining 88%. A disappointing but as expected letter from a junior minister.

A copy of the letter can be found here. I have redacted my full name and address.

Update 17/05/2020

It is with regret that unfortunately democratic process has failed. I really did believe after my call with Michael Gove that we would not be in this position. However, on Friday Michael Gove MP posted an update on his Facebook page after the meeting he had with Jeremy Quin MP, who the DIO ultimately report to.

He posted a letter from Jeremy Quin MP (Minister of state for defence procurement) and a video updating constituents on the outcome of his meeting. In the video he confirms, as is confirmed in the letter, that the “Ash Range Floor Complexes” which account for 12% of the total land will not be re-opened.

His video on his FB page is here and the letter is here. For convenience, and in case they suddenly disappear I have placed copies on this site, video here and letter here.

It is clear that Michael Gove has believed the mis-information given to him by the DIO and Jeremy Quin.

Based upon all the emails and posts I have read on FB there are many of us who are disappointed with this outcome.  We can’t stand by and let this happen.  Over the next few days I will update the website again with some options.  We do need as much support as possible if we are to make this happen.  Please do share with your friends and family who also enjoy the use of the ranges.

Update 15/05/2020

Yesterday, I received a response from the DIO to an email I sent on Monday, following the meeting I had with a DIO representative. Unfortunately, he was clearly not permitted by his seniors to reply in person, I therefore received an email from DIORDOSTrg-HQPMOParli@mod.gov.uk with no name at the bottom.

I had asked why the MoD had used Covid-19 as a reason to close the ranges during lockdown, something which they deny. Their response was:

 “The reason for closing the Ash Range floors is for safety and the undue cost that we have encountered through vandalism and antisocial behaviour. It was confirmed that we had always planned to close the range floors or technical area to the public. We had hoped to brief the Parish Council before but unfortunately the announcement of the lockdown forced our hand.”

This shows that:

  1. They had always intended to close access without public knowledge or consultation. The public consultation that was being planned for April was clearly just another smoke screen for their plans.
  2. The DIO continually confuse the terminology they use for the areas that they have illegally closed off. In recent weeks I have seen the following terms used by them to describe the closed off area. This makes it really confusing to articulate the exact area of concern:
    • Range Danger Area or RDA
    • Range Floors
    • Technical Area
    • Range Complex

It is clear that the DIO operates with no regard for or accountability to local residents or taxpayers. Their main objective is closing off access to areas with no regard of the bylaws in place. If we standby and do nothing and allow this to happen what will be their next plan? Closing off the entire ranges so they don’t have to worry about flags etc?

Today, Michael Gove MP is meeting Jeremy Quin MP (Minister for Defence Procurement), who the DIO should be accountable to, to discuss the decision to close off access permanently.

Let’s give democracy a chance and see if Michael Gove MP can reverse the decision made by his much more junior colleague Jeremy Quin MP and the DIO. To quote Michael Gove when speaking to me about the DIO’s actions, “their actions are certainly draconian”.

Update 12/05/2020

Following yesterday’s update (here) there were a couple of inaccuracies that the DIO have asked me to correct. It is never my intention to post anything that is not based on fact or truthful and I do net intend to mislead in anyway.

If you see an inaccuracy, spelling mistakes or poor grammar (I’m a technie not a linguist), or anything other issues please feedback by the feedback page or Email me Directly.

The following points were amended on the page so that it is correct:

  1. On the update in the 2nd paragraph I mentioned “part of the RDA (Range Danger Area)”. The DIO say this should read “the range floors” although I do believe that part of the RDA will now be closed. Areas behind the range floors etc”. The map is correct.
  2. Point 4 in the update stated “the decision had been made by ministers and top ranking DIO.”. The DIO have corrected this and said “the decision has been made by top ranking officers within the DIO and is awaiting ministerial approval.

Other points that should be clarified:

  1. At 6pm this thursday (14th May 2020) Michael Gove MP will online on facebook. Let’s use the opportunity to ask about the Ranges as I still havent had a response from him.
  2. I should get a written statement from the DIO in the next couple of days on yesterday’s meeting and outcomes. I will post this as an update when available.
  3. The AshRanges.com website is not affilitiated with the DIO, MoD or local council in any way. I am merely a concerned local resident taking action to try and preserve the historic right of access to the ranges when military exercises are not taking place. I am a private individual and all costs associated with the site come from my own pocket. I do not have funding and do not want donations. I am looking for support in the cause from like minded individuals.
  4. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I will report any abusive or threatening emails or comments on Facebook to the police. Whether you agree with me or not you have the right to have and share your own opinion.

Many thanks

James

Update 11/05/2020

Note: 12/05/2020 – this page has been ammended. See here for more information. Ammended parts are shown in italics here also.

Today another local resident and I met with a representative from the DIO, just outside the main gates, to discuss the current situation. This is as a follow up to the Skype call I had with Local councillors and DIO several weeks ago.

It is with great sadness I report that the MoD ARE permanently blocking public access to The Range Floors. There is some debate whether the RDA includes the parts immediately behind the ranges butts or not which are also closed. These closures continue what has already been in place since the government place us in lockdown. This was my greatest concern when the gates were locked.  I knew then that they would never reopen hence the need for this website.  See the highlighted map here.

The RDA is the piece of the ranges that has been locked since the COVID-19 lock-down was announced by the government. The DIO deny that the closing of the ranges had anything to do with COVID-19. Yet the day the ranges were locked, signs appeared on all locked gates which clearly stated “Due to the current restrictions resulting from COVID-19 this range complex will be closed to the public until further notice”. Full picture of sign is Here. I placed a laminated sign advertising “AshRanges.com” next to each of these signs, which was removed each time I put them up. The DIO deny the “Ash Range Complex” signs were anything to do with them. I suspect these were produced and placed by Landmarc (the DIO’s contractor) and although I can’t prove that, it seems the most plausible solution.

The DIO did also state that:

  1. this (the lockdown of the RDA) has been the MoD/DIO plan for some considerable time.
  2. they are open to ideas. I suggested just closing off the range floors (the actual shooting ranges) but apparently this is too expensive.
  3. They are committed to improving access outside of the fence, I have however questioned how this will be possible citing the example of the pinch point between the canal and the workshops on the eastern side of the ranges, near to the Swan Pub.
  4. the decision has been made by top ranking DIO Officers and is awaiting ministerial approval.
  5. they want to improve relations with the local community!
  6. They have increased the MoD police force covering Ash Ranges, Pirbright, Longmoor and several other areas.

It is clear to say that the MoD/DIO are mis-interpreting the bylaws in place and denying public access. The new gates were erected in January so that they can claim the now closed part of the RDA is an enclosed area. Thus they can prevent access in line with the Bylaws despite the public having had access to this land since there was first a population here. The MoD were given the land in 1885 which is when approximately the ranges were established. In 1887 the first bylaw was put in place to protect public access when military training is not taking place.

Whilst I have tried to give the MoD/DIO the opportunity to communicate with local councillors and myself it would appear this was just a stalling tactic so that they could get ministerial approval to permanently restrict access. This is subject to confirmation along with all of the points above.

If you agree that this is a massive in-justice and you haven’t already – please do write or email Michael Gove MP now on this issue, see What can I do to help or write directly to the DIO at:

“Ash Ranges are Public Land”

DIO Headquarters
Kingston Road

Sutton Coldfield
West Midlands
B75 7RL
United Kingdom

I am sorry that I can’t bring you more favourable news but we are not giving up here. I am awaiting written confirmation from the DIO on this matter and the above points. We all need to stand together and fight for our rights.  Please don’t give up!

James

Updates 08/05/2020

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:

Michael Gove

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. In the summer of 2019, there was a significant period of vandalism which:
    1. caused massive damage to the banks behind the targets on several ranges. These are vital to the stopping of bullets during firing
    1. resulted in the ranges being closed to military training for 5 days
    1. cost approx. £171k to repair
  5. The DIO are looking at ways they can maintain access to the ranges whilst protect its property.
  6. 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.
  7. With help from councillors, links will be established between MoD and civilian police.
  8. 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!

James