Phased reopening of Ash Ranges

Minister's visit to Ash Ranges

Minister’s visit to Ash Ranges

Jeremy Quinn MP visited Ash Ranges on the 7th of October to see firsthand the concerns of residents. This is part of an ongoing campaign for the full reopening of Ash Ranges. Michael Gove MP met with Jeremy Quin MP (MoD Defence Procurement) and Cllr Nigel Manning (Ash Parish Council Chairman) to see first-hand the issues raised by both the residents and local Councillors.

After the minister’s visit to Ash Ranges, Michael Gove MP published on his Facebook site;

I have been pressing Jeremy to lift restrictions and he agreed to visit yesterday to see for himself how access could be improved. We discussed a number of ways in which residents could enjoy easier access while respecting the army’s need to train safely“.

This also follows the correspondence between Cllr Nigel Manning and Jeremy Quinn MP.  Cllr Manning Published his last letter from the DIO Secretariat, dated 16 September 2021, which said, “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”.

Cllr Manning also commented that “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)”.

Ash Ranges
From the Left, Jeremy Quin Mp, Cllr Paul Deach, Cllr Nigel Manning, Michael Gove MP, visiting Ash Ranges 7 September 2021. Source: Michael Gove’s Facebook page.

Update and reopening following the Minister’s visit to Ash Ranges

After the Minister’s visit to Ash Ranges, On 22 October 2021, Michael Gove MP posted on his Facebook page, “Following my meeting with MoD Minister Jeremy Quin at Ash Ranges on 7 October – in which myself, Cllr Paul Deach and Cllr Nigel Manning pressed for a lifting of restrictions to access for local residents – he has since responded”. Within the post, a link to a letter sent to him by Jeremy Quin has been made public.

The letter summarises that the Technical Areas (e.g the dugouts and firing ranges themselves) are to remain closed. A part reopening of Ash Ranges is proposed in two phases. Phase one would reopen the road / hard-standing when the flags are not raised and phase 2 would open an East to West route. There is no completion date stated within the letter, however, within the diagram, it states that phase 1 is due to start this financial year (2021/22). Phase 2 requires a Habitats Regulation Assessment due to the ranges holding a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and a Special Protection Area (SPA). The Assessment is forecast to be completed by Summer 2022, after which plans for the corridor from east to west can begin.

Intense Lobbying

In a statement to Ash Parish News, Cllr Nigel Manning said;

I am pleased that Jeremy Quin MP has finally listened to the pleas of myself, through Ash Parish Council, and Ash residents, to allow some access to the Ash Range Firing Complex (ARFC). Whilst this is nowhere near a reopening of the ARFC, it does give access in Phase 1, to a large area of tarmacked road and wooded area. This will allow residents with mobility and other issues, who were previously the most disadvantaged by the ARFC closure, to be able to perambulate on a wide, hard surface and does allow direct access to a large wooded adjacent area.”

“Phase 2 is for a direct East/West corridor allowing a direct route from the perimeter path to the Range Danger Area (RDA) beyond, which of course has always been open to public access (when the red flags were not flying). Along both these stretches, the existing gates and hard standing will also be improved to allow easier access.”

“I know that some will be disappointed with this only partial reopening, but it must be remembered that MOD were legally able to permanently close the ARFC. What is now being proposed comes after 18 months of intense lobbying of MOD by Ash Parish Council, Michael Gove MP and comes at a significant financial cost to the MOD”.

The Letter (SU/4/6/1/is) sent to Michael Gove MP after the minister’s visit to Ash Ranges has been transcribed below with an image of the proposal.

Map of Planned Public Access Routes

Ash Ranges
Map showing Phase One and Two, Source: Public Letter MSU/4/6/1/is Annex A

 

MSU/4/6/1/is 14 October 2021

The letter published by Michale Gove MP is located here, which is transcribed below.

Dear Michael,
We have met and corresponded on the subject of the Ash Ranges Technical Area on many occasions. I fully appreciate how frustrating the decision to lose the Technical Area has been to many of your constituents.

The Army very much values good relations with the local community. I am delighted that the preservation of Ash Ranges over many years has ensured that MOD training can take place alongside an important local amenity for the general public.

As you are aware the vast majority of the Ash Ranges area lies outside the Technical Area and remains open whenever training allows.

Unfortunately, there are legitimate reasons why the Technical Areas, the actual firing ranges, have been closed. The loss of training time owing to vandalism is one reason, the other, is the growing awareness that providing open access when training is not taking place to an area close to a large population which contains man-made hazards with considerable risk of injury or worse is simply not appropriate.

Despite looking into the issue in depth we do not believe it would be right to reopen the Technical Areas to general access and will not be doing so. However, we have been working hard to try and mitigate the concerns raised.

We have already completed 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.

I am keen to do more to extend access. We have been working on two proposals and I found our meeting last Thursday extremely useful. It was very helpful to get a local perspective on the practicalities and I know my team on the ground are very aware of the importance we attach to this project. As discussed we wish to enhance access through a two phase programme.

Phase one

The principle of this is to provide a continuous hardened route from Furze Hill in the North to Area E5 in the South and enabling access onto this route from Chandlers Road. This will be achieved by connecting existing hardened routes outside the existing perimeter with hardtop currently inside the perimeter and installing new fences, access gates and hardening some new areas. As well as increasing the amount of hardtop access for those with mobility issues this will have the added benefit of providing approximately 15 acres of woodland convenient to residents in close proximity to Ash Vale for use whenever the ranges are not occupied. Work will begin on the first phase this financial year, to be completed by Summer 2022.

Hard Standing
Area of hard standing closed to the public, Source: Ash Parish News

Phase two

The principle of this is to provide an East-West route at a convenient central point to allow easier access from Ash Vale through the Technical Area on a designated fenced path and out onto the broader Ash Ranges area.

As you are aware, Ash Ranges is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area, and a Habitats Regulation Assessment is required prior to any construction works. In addition to this, an Explosive Ordnance Clearance is required before any fence can be installed. We are working hard to ensure that these assessments are completed by the Summer of 2022 so work on the second phase can commence.

Both phases will seek to provide increased convenience to residents but need to be undertaken in a way that minimises the amount of environmental harm, cost to the public purse and impact on military training.

Maps are provided at Annex A showing the whole area and Technical Area within it as well as outlining what we discussed on improved public access routes.

I do hope the work being conducted will be recognised as a very real attempt by the MOD to provide a better outcome for local residents.

I am copying this letter to Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Ranil Jayawardena MP, Jonty Lord MP, Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP, Angela Richardson MP and James Sunderland MP.
Yours sincerely

JEREMY QUIN MP
MINISTER OF STATE FOR DEFENCE PROCUREMENT

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