Back in April many in the local community received a letter – ironically dated April 1st – from local MP Ranil Jayawardena.
The letter contained two highly relevant assurances regarding access and use of Long Valley:
- More access gates and work had been commissioned to address this
- Officials have been directed to ensure gates are open for public access when not in use.
You can read a copy of the letter here:
DIO have not met either political commitment.
The gates remain wishful thinking and the concept of “in use” is broadly ignored.
We believe now is the time to call the DIO to account and would encourage you to write to your local MP and ask:
- Why are DIO are permitted to act as if the local community does not exist?
- Why political accountability with respect to DIO SE staff decisions and (in)actions appears to be weak or non-existent?
- Why are direct instructions such as “install gates” and “keep it open when not in use” are casually ignored?
- Where are the promised gates?
- Why is Long Valley shut when not in use?
If this has piqued your interest, please read on.
Where are the gates?
Currently there are just six pedestrian gates permitting access and they are poorly distributed with three on the eastern side, two along the southern boundary and just one in the west. The north west and north sides have zero access and there is a 5km off-road detour from one gate to the next.
When Ranil’s letter arrived, we wanted to believe the commitments but going on past DIO performance of ignoring anything they didn’t want to do we held off starting the celebrations.
All points where gates are needed are popular. They have become subject to “restorative access measures” (we refuse to call it vandalism) as the community assert the promised access. Fitting gates would reduce long-term maintenance and repair and restore access.
After 4 months and no sign of activity we decided it was time to close the loop and find out what planning work had been done so we submitted a Freedom of Information Request – you can read it and the response here.
The short answer is no statement of need, no contractor engagement or indeed any sign of work on gates has commenced – DIO hold no information on the matter. Contrary to assurances nothing has happened and the gates remain elusive.
This has all the hallmarks of DIO ignoring a direct political commitment again. Their track record on this behaviour is thoroughly disappointing.
Where is the Access?
Dating back to 2018 the local community has sought and received assurances Long Valley will remain open for recreation when not in use.
Since then DIO have consistently ignored political commitments, including a direct instruction from the Minister for Defence Procurement himself (letter dated July 2020), and have carried on blocking access irrespective of use.
The warning signs continue to convey worthless information for most of the time and from the booking on/off records between September 2020 and January 2021 we know the lands remained empty for extended periods, or just a tiny fraction of the 960 acres was occupied for part of the time. Of the 320 hours of locked gates during February just 34 hours were booked out and in use.
The signs do not convey accurate information for the majority of the time and have failed the basic standards we should expect.
Who are the Instructed Officials?
DIO is an official body, but it is individuals who represent it take the decisions – and ignore the instructions – that impacts all of us.
So we think it’s time those who spent £250,000 of taxpayer money preventing access at Long Valley are named. Of all the DIO staff involved there are two whom we believe to be directly responsible;
- Mark Ludlow – Training and Safety Officer (Security and Access)
- Lt Col Dickie Bishop – Commander, South East Training Estate
These two individuals have track record of seeking to exclude recreation – closing car parks, removing access at Ash Ranges, installing deterrent fences – we firmly believe both Mark and Dickie find the idea of recreational access very difficult to accept in practice or principle, despite what the Byelaws say. Their actions suggest their intent is to make access (the “Access” part Mr Ludlow’s job title) or as difficult as possible, even when the lands are empty.
If you have read this far, we would encourage you to write to your local MP and ask the questions we posed at the top of this article.
Who are the Fools?
What is regrettable is how a local community – one that cares passionately about the lands – is held at arm’s length at best and ignored at worst. How DIO have behaved over the closure of Ash Ranges is a perfect example of how not to “engage” with the community yet accountability remains absent.
DIO prevent access without good reason whilst failing to balance the positive outcomes recreational use brings with a minimal risk. Mental and physical health is improved with recreational access, with a positive reduction in demand for NHS & GP appointments coupled with the simple joy of living in a happier, healthier community.
This is not something TAG are making up – the government acknowledge, and numerous scientific reports agree recreation in open space is a very good thing with positive impact on high demand health issues such as obesity, diabetes, depression. These very issues that impact all of us fail to register in DIO for we know Ash Ranges was closed without any consideration or care.
So whilst the date of Ranil’s letter is likely to be coincidental its very clear who the fools are in this game. Unless and until DIO are held to account the local community will remain ignored and treated as fools.