July is now upon us and it marks a year and quarter since we last had permitted entry onto the Ash Range Firing Floors when flags were down!
During this period a lot of effort has gone into the quest for truthful evidence which might support the claims made by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation when (and since) their closure decision was announced.
You may be surprised to know that the closure decision was made in 2016 although for whatever reason the DIO were unable to liaise with either the community or the Parish Council during the following 4 years! Apparently the decision was made following a review of vandalism costs and lost training hours on the Ash Ranges Firing Floors.
In 2017 a reporting structure was initiated in order to consolidate all future instances of vandalism, lost training hours etc and this was termed the Untoward Occurrence Register also known as the UTO. Copies of the UTO have been obtained under the Freedom of Information Act covering the period since its inception to the earlier part of this year.
Somewhat surprisingly it has been impossible to align the data obtained from the UTU with any of the information released by the DIO or The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Jeremy Quin), indeed the data paints a very different story! How can it be that the very report which was created to support the DIO reasoning for closure of the Ash Ranges Firing Floors does not contain such evidence.
I wrote to Jeremy Quin (copied to Michael Gove) to ask how there could possibly be such a disconnect, either false information had been provided under FOI disclosures or false information was being fed to him. His response was in accordance with the ‘DIO party line’, citing lost training hours, vandalism and safety. I responded with detail relating to the UTO and sadly this brought a response – not from Mr Quin, but from the parliamentary secretariat, the very office which provides him with the ’data’.
Meanwhile Michael Gove and 2 other local MP’s wrote a letter to Jeremy Quin, the contents of which were posted below. That letter reflected all the issues that we have been campaigning about, furthermore, it shows the value of continued pressure from many within our community. Every letter, every email adds value to our campaign, never give up! Always show your support to the cause and continue writing!
Letter to Mr Quin From MPs Gove, Hunt & Lord
We are writing to you regarding the ongoing issue of access to the Ash Ranges.
Public access to MoD land is hugely important, and whilst we of course appreciate there are inevitable overriding reasons when the land needs to be used for defence purposes, ultimately, this is common land.
We remain worried by the inconsistencies in the reasons given for restricting access to Ash Ranges, and we are also concerned that ongoing reviews of the bylaws could – potentially – result in wider restrictions being implemented.
It is now more than a year since access to the Ranges has been restricted. The decision to implement restrictions was made at the beginning of last year’s first lockdown, and many residents were understandably hugely disappointed by this news – especially given how vital access to open land is for people’s physical and mental health during a pandemic.
The justification that the restrictions were implemented in order to prevent vandalism and to safeguard the public seems questionable. Incidences of vandalism look to be few and far between, and also, we feel the public overall are best placed to make a judgment about their own safety as they have done for many years. You will, of course, have seen all of the correspondence from Ash residents and Ash Parish Council detailing their analysis of why the DIO’s explanations do not command their confidence.
It is also the case that whilst only 12% of the land is being restricted, it seems illogical that the area closest to the Ash community, which causes the maximum possible disruption to residents who have for so long benefitted from swift access to the ranges, has been targeted. Whilst the proximity to the Ash Firing Ranges is appreciated, we know that residents find it anomalous that the Stoney Castle Firing Ranges and Henley Park Firing Ranges have evaded similar restrictions.
Whilst the bylaws review is yet to be concluded, we know that members of the local community would relish the opportunity to contribute, and we would be grateful for any news on how this might be facilitated. We remain hopeful that the findings of the review will confirm that residents’ access to the Ranges in their entirety – when appropriate – should be upheld, and we urge you to use the conclusion of the review into the bylaws overall as the perfect opportunity to lift these restrictions.
We know that other colleagues are also deeply concerned by the question of access to MoD land and would welcome a meeting before the recess to discuss this issue.
We shall look forward to hearing from you.
With every good wish,
Michael Gove – Member of Parliament for Surrey Heath
Jeremy Hunt – Member of Parliament for South West Surrey
Jonathan Lord – Member of Parliament for Woking’
Article Photos taken from Official Portraits found here Find MPs – MPs and Lords – UK Parliament under licence Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported — CC BY 3.0