As many of you will know, Ash Parish Council wrote to Jeremy Quin MP, minister of State for Defence Procurement to question the closure. The letter was sent on 26th January and can be seen here.
After several emails chasing the original, including raising with Parliamentary standards, Nigel Manning finally got a reply. This has been forwarded to our group and with his permission, you can see the full email here.
Cllr Manning, in our latest discussions posted on YouTube here, has promised to reply to this email as the content raises a lot of questions. This post details the various issues with the reply.
Dear Cllr Manning,
Thank you for your correspondence of 26 March 2021 and I acknowledge your emails dated
21 January 2021 and 23 February 2021 concerning the closure of Ash Ranges Firing
Complex. I would be very grateful if you could correspond with me on Ministry of Defence
(MOD) business at this address rather than via my constituency parliamentary email. This
will aid us providing appropriate responses in a timely manner.
You would think that whoever monitors his constituency email address would pass on MoD related stuff to his other email. We are on hand if he wants some help.
Unfortunately, as you know, the MOD has been forced to restrict access to a small area of
Ash Ranges in order to protect the range complex technical areas.
Forced? By whom?
The Ash Range complex has, I am afraid, been the subject of vandalism.
Yep, always has, always will.
Having reviewed the data since 2015 the costs currently sit at £164,434 with 6,128 range hours lost over that period.
This is the first inconsistency. In a presentation by the MOD to various members of the press the costs since 2015 were in excess of £170,000. The presentation is available here. Further, the MOD now seems to have found some detail on the lost hours. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request, asking for clarity after the Zoom call with Col Cook, states : “based on Verbal estimates from those units … rather than formal recorded data”.
The extent of the criminal damage and the costs to rectify were escalating annually: in 2019 it was £34,315 and 6,128 range hours lost (up from £2,430 and 0 range hours in 2015)
Let’s see the detail. In the PowerPoint presentation mentioned above, 2019 is listed as the date when the gate in the presentation was repaired. Looking at those pictures, you would assume it would be most of the £34k mentioned. The gate is not part of the closed area, but at Henley gate. This would never have been protected by the closure.
Again, the hours estimate – please provide the evidence. From the FOI for the list of irregular stuff (the Untoward Occurrence Register (UTO)) available here the number of criminal incidents across the ranges was 23 in 2019, with no logged lost hours.
in the period January 2020 – March 2021 this has been reduced to £8,016 and 1,124hrs with damage to
the perimeter fence and signs accounting for half the incidents.
This does look like a huge reduction. The UTO above states that there were no reported incidents in 2020 before the lockdown. So, this cost is all after they locked down. The UTO also states the number of criminal incidents was higher in 2021 than in 2019 at 43.
But the main point here is, Mr Quin is claiming the closure has reduced the cost of fixing vandalism and lost training hours. The global pandemic might have been more of a reason. Our parish has been stuck inside its homes for the majority of the time. Social interaction has stopped.
While the costs associated with vandalism inside the range complex areas have significantly
reduced, I am afraid they have not been eradicated. I include a photo of the latest damage
to a troop shelter which has not yet been repaired (and associated costs are therefore not
yet included in the figures).
This damage is galling. This looks costly too. All within a stone’s throw from a path that is regularly walked. This shows that the lock out is not working. This shelter is by the main gate, the preferred access point for many. Are the MOD seriously suggesting that the closure of the range to honest, law-abiding citizens have reduced vandalism? It has increased it.
The Department’s concerns about securing the complex are not solely restricted to
vandalism and its associated cost (both directly financial and in lost training). The Ministry of
Defence has a duty of care to members of the public who use the land for leisure, as we do
to our service personnel. A number of risks have been identified including the significant
drop from the range complex gallery to the concrete floor below.
These drops have not changed since 1855. What has changed in a risk sense since then? There are plenty of signs telling everyone that there are drops. Also, how many incidents have been registered for these drops? None according to the UTO. Pre-closure, scout, guide and other organised groups spent a lot of time on there, and they were not concerned. What sort of nanny state are we now living in?
Ash Vale has a canal running through it. No signs warning of water, no closure. That is more risky.
The train station is riskier. That is not manned or closed at certain times. People are intelligent enough to read the signage. If someone has an accident on the ranges (which they haven’t according to the UTO) no sensible person would hold he MOD responsible.
I fully appreciate the strength of opinion on the issue locally but it has become impossible to
justify retaining an open space and the associated risks that this may entail while at the
same time losing training hours and paying to repair damage inflicted by third parties.
Please justify your justification with facts and figures.
This is especially the case with the remainder of the range area open for public use when military
training is not taking place.
The remainder of the range is not as accessible and does not have the wide open spaces. By closing this area, you are restricting a lot of the parish of Ash using it, particularly the young, disabled or elderly.
The DIO is putting measures in place to provide better access to
this area. Work has already been completed on footpaths to provide members of the public
with a woodland walk, which is permanently available even when ranges are live. This work
has ensured a continuous route between the extensive woodlands comprising area E7 and
which includes the water feature known as the Flash and a popular canal sidewalk and area
E5 to the south, this again will be permanently available even when the ranges are live.
Whilst I am sure you are aware of the areas I refer to I include a highlighted picture for
No one asked for this. We have asked for the cost. The path is already in disrepair.
In addition, the route will provide access to the wider Range Danger Area (RDA) which
comprises 88% of the total of Ash Ranges and is open to the public when flags are down,
and no live firing is taking place. As funding allows, it is planned that further works will
complete the ‘Ash Great Loop’ which is designed to run external to the range perimeter
fence, although still on MOD land, and will provide an uninterrupted permissive route of over
8 miles. It is also intended that in due course this will be linked to the Pirbright Great Loop
which will enable an uninterrupted route through extensive woodland and over rolling
heathland totalling some 17 miles.
I am sorry that Defence has come to the conclusion that we could not in the circumstances
continue to keep the range floor open.
All fluff. As funding allows means – never.
However I hope you will note our ongoing
commitment to ensuring public access to what is a substantial open space.
No, you are locking it down. And there is no justification. Even if the costs associated are real, what cost to the NHS is being caused by restricting the movement of many in our community? What cost to the futures of our children that can not use this space that many generations have done?