The Brutality of the proposed changes

On 14th October, Michael Gove published a letter from Jeremy Quin highlighting initial proposals for introducing a corridor across the ranges to improve access.

Firstly, this shows that we are getting somewhere. Continued pressure from this campaign, the letter writing, the cajoling of local councillors, has proved that this issue is not going away and further they need to find a solution.

Secondly, whilst this corridor, in our opinion, is a non-starter, and doesn’t replace the access we have enjoyed for 150+ years, it could improve the accessibility of the ranges for future generations if done properly, with due care to the quality of the path and gradients involved.

To show you why we do not think the plans have been thought through, we are going to highlight some terrible facts about the current plans.

Image from letter from Jeremy Quin overlayed with OS Map of area

Analysis of the Corridor

Taking the second phase first, it is the most disheartening. A very basic analysis of the proposed corridor reveals a terrain that is – to be blunt – completely unsuitable for a path and any planning work or capital spend must be halted with immediate effect, lest the public purse be subject to more wasted spend. The proposal has all the hallmarks of being planned from a civil servant’s desk, something that has in this case delivered a solution that appears acceptable on paper but in practice will fail to deliver

If this planned corridor is an attempt to save money, then extreme caution must be applied to any cost/benefit analysis. It would appear the basics of geology, climate change, erosion, human behaviour and terrain have been set aside during the process to draw some coloured boxes on a map.

Take a closer look at the end of the yellow corridor. A steep slope is ideal for unidirectional mountain biking – aka “downhill” – but is considered highly unsuitable terrain for most users on foot

The section at end of Phase 2 corridor overlayed on OS map

Now consider the same area shown with a digital terrain model relief applied. The again, proposed corridor is represented by the hatched shape. The colours range from light green (low elevation) and red (higher elevation) as indicated by the scale on the left-hand side:

Corridor (hatched) highlighted on a digital terrain model

The digital terrain model (or DEM) permits further analysis, specifically what it would be like to walk from west to east through the corridor following the purple line:

Walking route using existing paths on DEM and profile of terrain

The proposed purpose of the corridor is to – quoting Mr Quin – “…allow easier access from Ash Vale through the Technical Area on a designated fenced path and out onto the broader Ash Ranges area.”

Yet anyone using the corridor will be faced with a very, very steep climb to enter the broader Ash Ranges area. The slope of existing paths of similar elevation gain are typically 600m in length and with an average slope not exceeding 3°. A path in the proposed corridor will climb 21m over a distance of just 91m and the average slope being 13° and a maximum of 44°.

The incline of the proposed corridor is one concern, but it feeds directly into the second – that of erosion. The geology of Ash Ranges is predominantly soft, sandy soil with exceptionally thin topsoil and is a recognised SSSI. Without considerable work (cost) to mitigate, the risk of significant erosion in the corridor will be very high, and with changing rainfall and climate ongoing maintenance will be more rather than less likely.

This lack of maintenance is already an issue with the path that the DIO have installed near The Swan, which is unpassable due to the low lying nature of the path compared to the surrounding ground. The new proposal will ensure the terrain and erosion will mean that the path will always be under maintenance, funds and priorities permitting, leading to paths being unusable by those they are designed for.

With an elevation gain of just over 21m, but it’s the gradient that sees the concept classified as unworkable, whilst concurrently DIO are proposing a corridor that will carry capital costs to mitigate erosion, with ongoing costs to manage and repair.

The Cruelty of Furze Hill

Furze Hill, at the northern entrance to the wider ranges, will have a new path external to the existing road. The problem is this path goes up the steepest part of Furze Hill. The maximum slope is 31° or 61%. Anyone who has walked inside the fence will tell you it is brutal.

There is a shallower path, the plan doesn’t include this, but this local knowledge is not within the MOD. There are locals willing to help the MOD, if they only talked to us.

May be an image of map
Plan of Furze Hill proposals

The issue here is have the DIO proposed this path knowing it is unusable? It smacks of an organisation going through the motions, showing that they “care” and are “listening” but without any real drive or compulsion to deliver the project.

Summary

By allowing the proposal to proceed DIO is at fault, either by a) failing to apply due diligence and a simple “will it work” test or b) by proposing a solution knowing it is unsuitable, unworkable, and ultimately a waste of money.

SOS believes the track record of DIO to deliberately misleading politicians is outstanding, and it should be no surprise to find SoS favour option b. We believe the deliberate use of satellite imagery in the proposal, lacking any indication of terrain, a very strong indicator that wilful obstruction of clear information has been used to hide the truth. For these failings we hold the DIO SE Security and Access responsible, for that is where we believe the buck firmly and consistently stops.

The primary reason for this belief is all the analysis, done so expertly by our friends over at Trail Action Group relies on open-source Government data. DIO must have access to this for estate planning purposes yet have neglected to use the best tools to hand or have ignored the results and carried on regardless.

The proposed path, thanks to terrain, is unworkable and unusable. Public money and civil service time spent on this will be wasted and must not be allowed to proceed and all planning work must cease with immediate effect.

The sensible, rational, and logical way to proceed is both straightforward, simple and likely to yield an immediate return for zero cost spend:

  1. Cancel the proposed Phase 1 and 2 works. Cease the waste of public money on projects that will deliver limited benefits or unworkable solutions
  2. Acknowledge risks are present but adequately mitigated as per the internal risk assessment. For example, the canal towpath carries risk yet remains open for all.
  3. Work with the local community and organise a scheme whereby residents care for the space when its not in use. In effect copy what has gone before by stablishing a warden scheme; that proved highly successful in 2009 and was acknowledged to work by MOD police at the time.
  4. To support the warden scheme, implement the 2019 TAG Anti-Vandal Trail. A near zero cost initiative to route the responsible around assets, deterring vandals by making it clear they could be disturbed at any time and ensuring any concerns are swiftly reported

The solutions to resolve DIO concerns exist and specifically do not involve public spending and barbed wire-topped deterrent fences. All that is preventing delivery is clear leadership and direction and for this we look to Jeremy Quin MP and Michael Gove MP to deliver.

The recognition of the community, to tap into the passion locals articulate, to care for and cherish the space must be apparent to any observer. To continue to deny access whilst blaming them for vandalism is a rather crude form of collective punishment and it must cease. Restoring access will go some way to restoring the good neighbourly values we all expect from civil society, something that DIO is not only funded by but very much a part of.

It is apparent DIO has a near-obsessive desire to control, something that flies directly in the face of the casual access enabled by Section 2 of the Byelaws. The desire to manage risk to near-zero levels is now directly harming the relationship with the local community at Ash and is directly harming what could be a relationship where cooperation delivers far greater rewards than a barbed wire fence and “Keep Out” signs will ever deliver. For evidence we need to look no farther than the costs of Phase 1 and 2 of the proposed access, which we will wager will achieve a spend far exceeding the annual vandalism charges. Long term, the loss of green space access for all will lead to poorer mental and physical health outcomes and this cannot be mitigated by a linear path.

A truly collaborative approach, whereby the community and DIO work together to resolve issues and deliver mutual benefit must always be the preferred and primary choice. Yet here we are, reminding ourselves again of the potential on offer, but only in retrospect after DIO has elected to act independently and without consultation or consideration of their neighbours.

For the community’s sake and for the sake of DIO if it is to regain any level of trust and credibility in the eyes of the taxpayers that fund its existence this must change.

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