In March 2020 DIO blamed COVID and locked the gates to 340 acres of land at Ash Ranges.
Fast forward to the present and the gates remain locked, except this time DIO have made it clear they are blaming local residents – a letter from Jeremy Quin MP (Minister for Defence Procurement) has been shared by Michael Gove MP informing us vandalism was costing too much.
You can read the full response here:
Instead of punishing the guilty and going after the criminals DIO have elected to impose collective punishment on an otherwise supportive community…a community that were being thanked by MOD Police for their work in a warden scheme.
Yes, you read that correctly.
There might just be a good reason the vandalism was historically lower:
In 2009 MOD Police were writing to local residents thanking them for helping reduce vandalism costs.
Nowadays local residents are more likely to be threatened with arrest or invited to the local police station for an under caution interview, such are the depths DIO have reached in managing community relations.
Disaster? Incompetent? Obstinate? Guilty as charged.
Flash the Taxpayer Cash
It’s easy to look at the headline figures in Quin’s letter, blame residents for breaking things and move on.
Except the figures do not tell the whole story and two sets of costs have been ignored.
Firstly, the quoted figures do not include the spend of £48,166.08 on upgrading the perimeter path. According to DIO this linear path is supposed to compensate for the loss of 340 acres of space and 10 miles of informal tracks and paths.
The path is now flooding and is reverting to a boggy mess while a perfectly good all weather track lies just inside the fence. The spend on maintenance is likely to be ongoing and the locals do not for one minute think the path a fair swap for 340 acres.
Secondly, the DIO figures lack any assessment of the value of outdoor recreation.
Being outdoors and taking exercise is proven to improve both physical and mental health and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport recognise there is a hard cash saving on NHS and GP services. The benefits of a healthy community – something the government is keen to promote – and reduced costs of healthcare are ignored by DIO…or maybe they just missed the memo?
Either way DIO do not measure value, focusing solely cost – we know this because no impact assessment was prepared ahead of closing off Ash Ranges. So whilst DIO will claim a gain and saving, wider society will pay more as the demand for healthcare heads upwards and the final bill is met by the NHS.
DIO can find the cash to upgrade a path and spend nearly £50k in an attempt to placate the community…but no consultation established if a path was needed or wanted. Even when historical evidence supplied by no less than MOD Police exists to demonstrate a warden scheme could work for all do DIO step back and engage?
No, not at all.
For some reason…We are reminded of the classic Blackadder quote:
If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through.
Jeremy Quin kept his job during the recent reshuffle. We see this as a good thing; we have a Minister who finally recognises the strength of feeling:
“I can assure you that I am very aware of the strength of opinion and the desire of local residents and the Army to maintain what is a long and very positive neighbourly relationship”
But on the other hand we are faced with precisely zero action from Jeremy when it comes to accountability. DIO are enabled and empowered to persist with a policy of ignoring the Ministerial directive to keep Long Valley open when not in use, and failing to install the promised gates. Good neighbours do not act like an entire community is irrelevant, do they?
So we have a Minister who claims to understand a community and the passion we hold for the lands, but singularly and simultaneously fails to hold Mark Ludlow (DIO SE Security and
Access) to account and ensure written commitments are delivered on the ground.
None of this bodes well for a set of byelaws that are fit for purpose, preserving and protecting recreational access. With closed car parks, locked gates and barbed wire topped deterrent fences the signals from DIO are clear; recreational users are unwelcome irrespective of the lands being in use.
The lack of accountability from Ministers may well result in a new set of byelaws that suit DIO perfectly with casual recreation reduced to when they can be bothered to unlock gates. So far Ministers have failed to ensure DIO comply with basics, so what chances do we have with a new legal framework?
Finally, we do not agree with the Minister when he claims:
While in the circumstances it is very hard to mitigate the issues raised around the TA [Closed area]
This is classic over-thinking of a “problem”. The answer to reducing vandalism costs can be quickly resolved by instructing DIO to engage with the local community, reinstate access and start working together.
We know this works – MOD Police letter speaks for itself. This would be a win-win as mental and physical health benefits, reduce direct criminal costs and strengthen goodwill and collaboration between the army and civvies.
After reading this you feel pressing the Minister for some accountability and ensure DIO follow instruction and reinstate access to Ash Ranges then do please raise the matter with your local MP using this link:
Allowing DIO to carry on regardless – as if the community does not exist – may have more long-term consequences than DIO can imagine. Damage to the relationships, loss of goodwill and cooperation will undoubtely escalte if left unchecked.
In the meantime, we have raised the issues of DIO behaviour again with local MPs and we will report back shortly when a response is received.