Ash Parish Council (APC) have issued an open letter to Jeremy Quin MP, “demanding” that the Ash Ranges Firing Complex (ARFC) be reopened. At Mondays full council meeting, parish councillors voted unanimously in favour of a more “forceful response” to the closure of the Ash Range Firing Complex. The Council, which has been in negotiations with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) will now be working in co-operation with the Save Ash Ranges group, run by Mr Carl Cookson.
In May, Ash Parish Council were advised the ARFC had been closed due to “vandalism costing £170,000 over the last 5 years”. This claim however has not been backed up, and in more recent communications, the reasons for the closure were given surrounding health and safety. This has raised questions as to the motives of the closure, and why Ash Ranges specifically has been singled out.
Cllr Nigel Manning, Chairman of Ash Parish Council says:
“I must stress that Ash Parish Council (APC), has long supported and welcomes the military activities on Ash Ranges. Having said that however, APC along with the residents it represents, were extremely disappointed and very angry when, without warning or indeed consultation, the ARFC was closed to the public.”
“I have to say, the conflicting information presented by the MOD, has been exacerbated by the statements made in your letter. Was the closure of the ARFC really due to vandalism and the disruption to training, or the latter reason given by Colonel Cook, Health and Safety? These conflicting statements have severely damaged that relationship between APC, the MOD and Ash residents.”
“as Chairman of Ash Parish Council, I have no alternative but to respectfully demand that you as Minster of State for Defence, restore full public access to the ARFC with immediate effect until proper, open, honest and constructive discussions can take place to find an agreeable solution for the benefit and satisfaction of all parties.”
“I can assure you that both Ash Parish Council and the users of the ARFC are committed in wanting to assist the MOD in making these areas safe for both the military and the public to use and we all want to work harmoniously with the MOD to achieve this goal.”
Ash Ranges access: How did we get here?
The Ash Ranges were open to the public when the military were not carrying out training exercises. This has proved vital to local residents because of the flat tarmac paths, allowing wheelchair users and more vulnerable people a safe space to exercise and walk their dogs. It is also a popular spot for local youth and Scout Groups to run wide games.
So what happened?
- Dec 2019: Rumours the MOD were considering closing the ARFC
- Feb – Mar 2020: All scheduled meetings were cancelled by MOD at short notice
- 1 Apr 2020: The ARFC was closed to the public without warning
- May 2020: Zoom meeting was held between representatives of APC and the MOD
- May – Aug 2020: Negotiations between APC, DIO & MOD take place
- 16 Sep 2020: A public Zoom meeting was held with Michael Gove MP and Colonel Phil Cook
- Jan 2021: APC votes for “forceful response”
- Ash Ranges: Hillbers News