The DIO Response to Cllr Manning’s Letter
Ash Ranges Update: On 16th September, the DIO has sent its response to Cllr Manning’s letter, first sent on 14th June 2021. Having received his response, Cllr Manning has now published this correspondence on the Ash Parish Council website.
Ash Parish News has asked Cllr Manning for comment, who explained that;
“This letter is part of an ongoing dialogue with Jeremy Quin MP and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO). On the 14th of June I posted my reply to Jeremy Quin MP, to the address he suggested I use in his letter dated 4 May 2021. Having not received a timely response to my posted letter, I contacted the Ministerial Support Unit (MSU) via email on 15 August, sending a copy of the text of my letter sent earlier. They advised they had not received my letter of 14 June, but enclosed a response, which I am making public.
“Reading the response sent to me on 16 September 2021, I am now more optimistic for some time, that there will be some movement by the (Ministry of Defence) MoD on the access restrictions to the Ash Ranges Firing Complex (ARFC). The subject of the closure of part of Ash Ranges still remains very much an issue with Ash Parish Council, which I as the Chairman, am continuing to pursue!”
“For openness and transparency, my letter, and it’s the response by the DIO, is also being made public on the Ash Parish Council website.”
Room for optimism
Whilst the DIO has not provided satisfactory answers to questions asked by both Councillors and members of the public, Cllr Manning draws attention to the DIO Secretariats letter which said that;
“in line with Ministerial direction we are currently considering a number of options to provide additional access to Ash Ranges when public access is permitted. Alongside this I must reiterate that residents still have access to the remaining 88% of Ash Ranges on days when the Ranges are not being used for Military training.”.
There is a long way to go to repair the reputation of the MoD and DIO among Ash Residents, who has staged protests in anger against the surprise closures without due cause. Cllr Manning confirmed that he will be responding to the latest letter and hopes to provide more positive updates in the future.
The fight to “Keep Ash Ranges Open” as part of the “Save Our Spaces” campaign continues to be fought by the both the Ash Parish Council and the community. It is the enduring hope and ambition that residents will once again be able to use the currently closed areas respectfully and peacefully, as they did prior to April 2020.
Ref: 2021/TO08992 DIO Secretariat
The letter received has been transcribed below and can be found here.
16 September 2021
Dear Councillor Manning,
Thank you for your correspondence of 15 August 2021 concerning public access to Ash Ranges. Your correspondence has been passed to the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), the Ministry of Defence (MOD) organisation with responsibility for the Defence Estate. In accordance with standard procedures I am responding to this matter. Unfortunately, your letter dated 14 June 2021 was not received by the Department, however I hope to address the concerns raised in this response.
Further to our previous correspondences (ref: FOI2020/12542; TO2021/00751 ME2021/00652), I can confirm there remains no intention to prevent ongoing public access to the majority of Ash Ranges when such access is permitted. However, public access to the Ash Range floors/Technical Areas has presented a range of ongoing concerns, resulting in their closure.
I am pleased to advise that in line with Ministerial direction we are currently considering a number of options to provide additional access to Ash Ranges when public access is permitted. Alongside this I must reiterate that residents still have access to the remaining 88% of Ash Ranges on days when the Ranges are not being used for Military training.
With regards to the release of information on the loss of training hours and cost of vandalism which you requested in your Freedom of Information (FOI) request (ref: FOI2020/12542). Under the FOI Act, the Section 12 (disproportionate costs) exemption was applied to your request because to answer, would have exceeded the appropriate cost limit under the Act. Following a subsequent internal review, the Departments decision to apply the S12 exemption was upheld and therefore, our response still stands. It should also be noted that under the FOI there is not obligation to create information purely to answer any query that has been raised.
I hope this goes some way to answering the concerns raised and clarifies the MOD’s current position.
Follow-up email to MSU
The follow-up email which sent the digital copy has been transcribed below and can be found, here.
From: Nigel Manning
Sent: 15 August 2021 15:38
To: MSU-Group (MULTIUSER)
Cc: Michael Gove MP
Subject: RE: 20210512 Closure of the Ash Range Firing Complex MSU 18.104.22.168
I attach a copy of a letter that I sent by post to Jeremy Quin MP Ministry of Defence, Floor 5, Zone B, Main Building, Whitehall, London SW1A 2HP, as he suggested in his letter 12 May 2021. I have not received an acknowledgement or reply, and I have concerns that this may not have reached you.
I would be obliged to receive confirmation that this letter has been received and a date by which I might be expected to receive a response.
Ash Parish Council
Cllr Manning’s Letter to Jeremy Quin MP
The letter sent has been transcribed below and can be found here.
14 June 2021
Re. Closure of The Ash Range Firing Complex. (ARFC)
Thank you for your letter 12 May 2021. As you do not provide an email address for you at MOD, I am sending this letter by post.
I do appreciate the need for MOD to ensure the continued uninterrupted training on Ash Ranges firing Complex (ARFC). What I and the Ash residents are very upset about is the fact that the closure was done without consultation and was a total lockout.
MOD have subsequently changed the reasons for this closure from Vandalism, causing loss of training plus increased maintenance costs and dog faeces in firing pits causing health issues for cadets, to Health and Safety. Health and safety was the latest reason given by Colonel Cook in September 2020, but this has been totally ignored in your letter 12 May 2021 and your previous letter in December 2020.
What I find interesting and confusing is that despite being told that no information existed to prove the loss of training hours and that the costs of vandalism would take excessive time to produce, you have clearly been provided with such specific information for inclusion in your letter, so clearly it must be available.
Much of the continued antagonism with the actions of MOD is that they have continually refused to provide such information, with the affect that a number of more committed campaigners have been able to spread the belief that MOD were lying and actually breaking the law, and were merely removing the access to ARFC from Ash residents as part of a draconian ‘land grab’ to keep out the ‘annoying public’.
I believe that as you have clearly encouraged MOD to produce these factual figures to respond to my letter, it would be a substantial move in the right direction for these background documents and evidence to be released, so as to show that MOD has taken justifiable actions.
I also still believe that for relatively little cost, but with huge amounts of POSITIVE public relations, that a central corridor between two blocks of actual firing ranges, would enable local residents access to flat areas with some roadways enabling easier access for those with disabilities, to enjoy exercise as before.
I know that the local MOD and DIO have looked at the possibility of this ‘central corridor, and there is a clear delineation within the ARFC that would allow for this to be done. However, since Whitehall MOD have become involved, the local MOD and DIO now have no remit to undertake further discussions with Ash Parish Council to try and resolve this difficulty, to the benefit of both local residents and MOD. I would much welcome a recommencement of such discussions
As I have asked before, I would be happy to meet with you and our local MP Michael Gove MP to explore this further, either, face to face, or via a MS Teams or Zoom meeting, as I think this would help in your further understanding of the issue and help to expedite matters to the benefit of all concerned.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Councillor Nigel Manning
Ash Parish Council
cc. Michael Gove MP