Tag: update

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!

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

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