For PRs Sake!

We do appreciate feedback from the MTB community on what is happening on the military lands – and in particular we really like to hear of any encounters with DIO’s Training Area Safety Marshals (TSM).

So we were delighted to hear of one positive outcome, when a TSM lent a mountain biker a tool to fix their bike and helped continue the ride.

This is the kind of collaboration and cooperation that makes the world a better place and we need more, not less, of it.

A TSM vehicle in Long Valley…encounters with them are rare given the area they are trying to manage

Regrettably its still too early to pop the champagne and celebrate a new, positive and engaged DIO.

After fixing the bicycle the TSM and rider had a friendly chat.

Sadly we do not have a recording (and we do encourage this) but the rider did share the gist of what was said. So we are going to pick apart and examine in more detail some of the statements the TSM made.

What follows is a breakdown of the issues and concerns with the TSM’s view:

Cycling is banned and MOD Police can fine you and sieze your bike

Both of these statements fail to recognise the 2019 agreement between DIO and TAG that legitimised cycling on the military lands – you can read it here. In the current byelaws DIO can issue a Section 8.3 authorisation permitting anything that is listed as illegal, and there is precedence for DIO doing exactly that when Mark Ludlow (DIO SE Security and Access) issued Farnham Ramblers with permission to walk in groups.

The original copy has been removed from the Ramblers website…but we kept a copy and you can read how Ramblers were given the green light by Mark Ludlow in 2014:

The 2014 date is significant – remember how DIO set about banning MTB at the same time?

There are plenty of nagging questions; Why does DIO refuse to acknowledge the 2019 agreement with cyclists? Why are TSMs still repeating out of date information? And why were the Ramblers able to secure permission and MTB not?

Mark Ludlow cannot deny such an agreement was made…as it was discussed with the Chair of TAG in his Longmoor office…then followed up with emails and subsequent publication. At no time have DIO sought to amend or revoke the agreement, so as far as TAG is concerned the deal stands.

Short answer is we don’t know why TSMs are failing to recognise the agreement but the working presumption is Mark Ludlow has failed to inform TSMs, or simply refuses to offer the same courtesy extended to Ramblers and recognise the agreement is very much valid.

On this point we consider it a failure of standards in public life to not acknowledge something that patently exists and have an active Parliamentary Ombudsman complaint against DIO and Mark Ludlow seeking formal, written recognition of the agreement for cyclists and securing legal certainty for all.

Cyclist must stick to the fire roads as cycling on single track is inherently dangerous and MOD will be sued by anyone hurting themselves.

Firstly, DIO had full sight of the published 2019 agreement, yet restrictions as to where cyclists were permitted to ride was not included, nor amendment(s) sought. As far as TAG are concerned single track is the place to ride and is more often multi-use and shared with walkers, who suffer no such restrictions.

Secondly, there is no evidence we are aware of that suggests single track is more dangerous than the fire roads. Indeed, there is a good argument to use single track as it avoids meeting vehicles, particularly in places like Long Valley.

According to DIO this single track is inherently dangerous and riders must not use it. TAG do not agree and consider such policy to be completely lacking in hard evidence and is a good example of failing to uphold standards in public life

As for MOD being subject to personal injury litigation by an MTB rider…this is utter nonsense. MOD are being sued by cyclists…but slippery roads, traffic barriers and wheelie bins were all cited as primary causes and military bases are the typical location.

No one, in spite of the thousands of hours ridden, has sued MOD for injury on Aldershot single track…we have collectively and individually “opted in” to the risks it might pose to take massive benefit from the joy riding the trails brings. To put it simply, single track is worth it.

For failing to use objective evidence to advise policy we have evidence of another failure by DIO to uphold standards in public life.

Hopefully in the future when the new bylaws are put in place it will allow cyclists to ride the fire roads

The 2019 agreement between TAG and DIO already permits greater use than just the fire roads, so a new set of byelaws that restrict us will be doomed to fail.

TAG oppose the idea of “fire roads only” on the simple grounds it will permit DIO to maintain a negative approach to cycling – there is a hard, embedded culture that will ignore (and has ignored) the byelaws and continue to use the single track.

All TAG seeks is parity with walkers and what they enjoy today – the freedom to roam – and nothing less will be as much unreasonable as unenforceable. To achieve parity with walkers will do nothing other than formalise how the lands are ridden today, nothing more and nothing less. There will be no mass MTB rampages through the heather or other senstive areas…things will just carry on as we use the existing network of routes, but we all get DIO and their massive risk adversion culture off our collective backs.

Persisting with restrictions on cyclists will empower DIO to maintain marginalisation. When set in the context of their overwhelming desire to fence in areas and permanently exclude everyone, it’s easy to see how DIO will use MTB as the excuse – blame the MTB community for riding off the fire roads and stick up more barbed wire topped deterrent fences. For evidence we need look no further than DIO’s willingness to apply collective punishment at Ash Ranges and use any and all means to fabricate justification to support subjective policy.

For these reasons TAG are calling for byelaws fit for purpose whereby recreational access is protected from the excesses of an unaccounable DIO.

DIO would be interested to know if an area could be used by MTB [for digging]

Of all the issues raised, this is perhaps most galling.

Back in 2019 Mark Ludlow solicited a report from TAG looking into the feasibility of having an area set aside for trail construction.

TAG volunteers duly met with a few diggers, scoped the suggested areas and worked up a plan into how we could work together. The report was authored and duly delivered to Mark Ludlow.

To date the report has neither been acknowledged nor responded to.

Therefore the answer is already on Mark Ludlow’s desk, yet two years later DIO are still asking the same questions.

Why would this be? Are DIO really interested in working on this?

TAG believe we are deep into egocentric decision making territory and bad faith engagement…to that end we have an active Parliamentary Ombudsman complaint against Mark Ludlow for failing to respond to the solicited report.

DIO are getting a lot of negative press…could you do a positive post on social media?

We would not consider for one minute holding DIO and its staff to account as negative press but see it as a civic duty to act, to hold public office holders to account for their actions, see unwelcome behaviour corrected and ensure civil servants meet the expectations of standards in public life.

One sad aspect of this encounter is the TSM thought it necessary to ask for a positive post. It highlights the depths DIO have reached in their standing with the local community, and a simple act of helping someone in distress must not become transactional, as good deeds are exchanged for a good news story.

A desire to help others at times of need is part of what makes us human, and is not something to be traded. That aside, we do really (like really, really) appreciate the efforts of the TSM and recognise the issues we all face are generated by the leadership and daft policy, not always the people at the sharp end.

If DIO really do need some positive PR then TAG can quickly act. Implementing the following changes will deliver DIO good news stories by the spadeful:

  • Reinstate access to Ash Ranges and create a warden scheme to work with the community.
  • Install the promised gates at Long Valley
  • Stop using DANGER signs to tell lies and comply with the Ministerial directive to keep Long Valley open when not in use.
  • Issue a formal notice under Section 8.3 confirming cyclists may use the lands and ensure TSMs are fully aware of its existence.
  • Work with TAG to implement the digging proposals.
  • Develop with TAG a long-term educational plan that helps civvies understand military training
  • Ensure Porridge Pots is accessible and add a gate at the northern boundary ensuring the strategic north/south route is restored in full.

Implementing the above could potentially negate the requirement to persue the Parlimentary Ombudsman complaints to their conclusion.

Above all, DIO must recognise there is a society and community that has deep involvement, respect and passion for the lands, and to start to work with them to make the world a better place. Furthermore, the almost unique and highly valued Section 2 of the byelaws – recreational access to all areas at all times when not in use – must become embedded thinking within DIO SE.

Then positive PR will not really be required…it will just be positive all round.

Until then, restoring long term trust in DIO will require a lot more than a fleeting glimpse of positive social media PR.

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