Campaign History


The situation on the car park at the end of February 2012:

 Public Meeting  Friday Feb 10th

A very well attended meeting was held at the United Reformed Church on Friday evening. 96 people came to hear about the proposed closure of the central car park on Hankley Common.

Presentations were given on the general situation, the laws that affect access to the Common and the MoD plans. This was followed by a question and answer session.

The MoD still intend to close the car park but have agreed to wait until a suitable replacement has been agreed with Elstead Parish Council who are liaising closely with PATH and the MoD. Investigations and discussions are going on and will hopefully result in an acceptable compromise.  Elstead Parish Council will provide and clear a waste bin at the new car park. Anybody interested in this should check the Elstead Community website.

The situation on Hankley Common was never as simple as PATH v. the MoD. There was a lot of public ignorance about the MoD/Landmarc position that was causing concern and the campaign has done a lot to clear that up. We are now fully aware of the MoD requirements for increased training on Hankley Common and their safety concerns that make it desirable from their point of view to close the central car park. Many of us also sympathise with their objection to the inconsiderate behaviour of some dog walkers in not clearing up after them, although they are not legally obliged to do so in a rural open space. Many of the public misunderstandings could have been prevented by better communications on the part of the MoD and a more friendly approach to visitors by Landmarc.

We are also now aware that the MoD own the land in the southern part of the Common and have a legal right to close the central car park and to restrict access to permissive paths on the Common if necessary for military purposes during training. They cannot close registered public byways but apparently their safety concerns do not include those. 
Fees charged for the use of the Common by film makers and other commercial users are divided between the MoD and Landmarc and help to cover the cost of maintenance of the Common, effectively reducing the cost to the taxpayer of military training.
What has been achieved so far by the campaign is a constructive dialogue between PATH campaigners and the MoD, through the local Parish Councils, and an agreement that that the MoD will not open their originally proposed car park on the other side of the Thursley Road, a solution generally agreed to be unsafe, as well as unsuitable for access to Hankley Common. They have offered a choice of three options for a replacement and these are under discussion. The existing car park will not close until a suitable substitute has been found. Wherever it is we will try to arrange for dog mess bins to be sited there, to try to reduce that nuisance on the Common.
We still regret the MoD intention to close the car park and will do our best to ensure that less active members of the public will still be able to visit the areas that they have been used to enjoying over many years.


Ninety six people from Elstead, Thursley, Rushmoor and other villages came to Elstead URC to discuss the closure of the Dropping Zone car park on Hankley Common and reduced access to the Common. The meeting was organised by the “Protect Access to Hankley” group (PATH).

Dave Sumner Smith gave a presentation of the historic and legal situation on Hankley with contributions from Pat Murphy, John Mathisen and David Moxon. Landmarc wardens have adopted a very aggressive approach to users of the common over the past two years. Until then, the army and the public had shared the Common amicably for over 40 years.

Following a meeting between the MoD and local Councillors the MoD has cancelled the unacceptable proposal for a car park east of Thursley Road. The DZ park will remain open until a replacement is found. Public access to the Common is to be maintained, but the MoD insist that the DZ car park will be closed due to their operational needs. They also claim that dog mess at the DZ car park affects training and the environment.

The MoD has come up with three possible alternatives for the new car park. The first is at the crossroads where Woolfords Lane and Truxford Lane cross – about 300m from the DZ car park. The second is an area on top of Houndown itself via the gate opposite Dye House Lane, but access to the Common is difficult. Third, the Pitch Place parking area could be restored to give more capacity. Those present overwhelmingly preferred the first option.

Few people were convinced by the MoD’s arguments for closing the DZ car park but all agreed that discussions need to continue. Closing the DZ parking area during exercises was rejected, as this would confuse visitors. People were aware of the increased level of military usage, but this has happened before with no need to close the car park. There is concern that Hankley Common has too heavy a share of increased training and there is suspicion of a bigger MoD agenda. Despite increased training commercial filming is allowed.

Many people are concerned about the policing of Hankley. Horse riders and dog walkers said that they had been harassed by wardens over the past year for doing what they had always done. Riders would prefer free access but they need permits which are difficult to obtain.

The meeting agreed that PATH should go forward on the basis of these proposals and discussions. PATH is keen to ensure that all interests are represented, including walkers, cyclists, horse riders and model aircraft flyers. The need is to reach a constructive solution with the MoD.

There is a survey on how people use the Common. This is available online on the Elstead Community website at: . 

Paper survey forms are available from, and can be returned to, the veterinary surgery on Elstead Green or posted in the Elstead URC letter box. 

There is also a petition for people to sign at: . Any concerns or ideas can be emailed to

A collection was made at the meeting and people contributed generously to help PATH continue its work. Any surplus at the end of the campaign will be donated to charity.

15:21, 15 Feb 2012 by Michael Organe 



Local residents fight secret plans to restrict access to Hankley Common   PATH article March 2012

Residents of Elstead, Tilford, Thursley and surrounding villages have learned of plans by the MoD and their land management agency Landmarc to dramatically restrict public access to Hankley Common between Milford and Farnham. The plans only became apparent when Landmarc were challenged about threats to close a particularly popular car park and admitted intentions to relocate the car park a mile away, separated from the popular Common by a thickly wooded steep hill, a bog and a fast road. 

According to the MoD website, public access to Hankley and Elstead Commons “is permitted along public rights of way across both Commons at all times. In addition open access on foot is available in those areas delineated by the managed access symbol on Ordnance Survey Explorer maps, provided walkers do not interrupt military training". But gradual steps have been taken to restrict public access by reducing the size of car parks and erecting earth mound bunds to prevent parking.

Now Landmarc plans to completely shut the Dropping Zone car park just off the Thursley Road to the south of Elstead. It plans to open another car park at the site of the old Polish Camp east of the Thursley Road, between Truxford Corner and Thursley Village .  This will make access to Hankley Common very difficult for pedestrians. There is no pavement on that section of Thursley Road and the land between the old Polish Camp and Hankley Common is extremely steep and heavily wooded – impossible for disabled people, older walkers and people with children in pushchairs. (Later note - this proposal has been abandoned).

The MoD and Landmarc has rejected calls for public discussions on the subject and given conflicting information, but it plans to make the change in Spring / early Summer. The only publicity they have given is a warning that the car park will close if ‘unacceptable’ levels of dog fouling do not ‘significantly decrease’. But Landmarc has admitted to local parish councillors that this is a ‘red herring’ and the plans to close the car park were taken months before the warnings were posted. 

Under pressure from local residents, Landmarc and the MoD now say the car park must be closed because public access interferes with military training. Local residents voice strong support for military training, but argue that the car park has been used for over 30 years by walkers, hikers, cyclists, bird watchers, runners and families without any significant problems to Army activities. Indeed, levels of military usage were much higher in the past, when the Parachute Regiment regularly “dropped” on Hankley Common.  Apart from a handful of major exercises each year, the Army now only uses small sections of Hankley Common for very small scale activities, which could easily be marked to prevent any public interference. 

A fast-growing campaign has been launched through Facebook and local parish councils to Protect Access To Hankley (PATH) and keep the car park open.

A petition has been started at:

A public meeting is to take place at the United Reformed Church, Milford Road, Elstead at 8pm on Friday 10th February 2012:

General discussion and news:

Other updates and contact details:





David Moxon

16 January 2012

Proposed closure of MoD car parks

In recent months, most recently in the minutes of the Elstead Parish Council meeting of 5 December, reference has been made to the MoD’s proposal to close car parks giving access to Hankley and Elstead Commons.  In communications with the Parish Council, notices at the Hankley Common DZ car park and in conversations with individuals, contradictory reasons have been advanced.   This note seeks to summarise the main issues that have been raised.

The key reasons given for closing car parks are (a) the problem of dog mess which makes some areas unpleasant for trainees; and (b) the requirement to make more intensive us of our local commons for training.   Either way the clear implication is that by closing car parks fewer people will choose to use the commons which in turn must inevitably mean they become a less valuable resource for the local community and visitors to the area.  

Dog mess around MoD car parks

This has been a consistent theme and is reflected in notices and new signs put up around the commons.  If this is the sole reason for closing car parks it seems an extreme response to such a narrow problem.

It is, of course, a good idea to encourage owners to clear up after their dogs.  The problem is very much concentrated around car parks. There is no doubt that there has been an excessive amount of dog mess on the path above the DZ car park in particular.  But the levels have been reduced and dog owners are more often seen clearing up after their animals.   Providing bins is the simple way to mitigate the problem and other bodies with responsibility for common land, such as the  National Trust the RSPB and local councils, are increasingly adopting this solution.  The army have said it is not up to them to tackle this problem.  But it is frankly unrealistic to expect people to carry a bag of dog turds on long walks around the common: it is important to help people to do the right thing.  The reality is that the MoD is responsible for large areas of open land to which the public have access and if they have a problem with dog mess than it is common sense for them to help solve it in a constructive way.  (It has been suggested that WBC would provide dog waste bins at the Pitch Place car park on Hankley Common which is obviously helpful.)

It is understood that, by MoD’s internal rules, training may not take place within 300 metres of a car park.  If this is so it makes a nonsense of the evidence which the army produced in the summer showing dog mess around the DZ car park when that is within the army’s self-proclaimed training exclusion zone. (In fact this 300 metre rule does not seem to be rigidly followed.)

Increased levels of training

After advancing the problem of dog mess around the Hankley Common car park as the reason for closing the car park the army appear to have moved on to the issue of levels of training.   The Parish Council suggested a possible compromise in the car park should be available to the public when training is not in progress.  However, MoD have claimed that training now takes place on 83 per cent of days so it would still be closed most of the time.  While allowing parking on the remaining 17 per cent of days would be better than nothing, any closure will cause confusion for a long time to come.  Visitors come from a wide area and often rely on OS maps and walk books that show the location of car parks.  Past visitors who simply 'know' they can park there will be confused if they can’t.  We will get more dispersed parking on surrounding lanes and tracks such as Houndown which gives access to houses but is part of the army training area. 

It remains unclear what, exactly, has changed to justify closure of a car park that was opened by MoD to facilitate public access in the 1970s.  It is in constant use and also provides facilities for horse boxes as it has a good surface and there is no height bar. 

As people gradually become aware of the closure they will simply find other places on Hankley Common to park which may have other adverse consequences.  For example, one can park at the end of Westbrook but that has a number of houses along it and residents will have to put up with a lot more traffic.   People from surrounding towns may simply gravitate to other commons which are more welcoming, such as the National Trust ones, to the detriment of Elstead businesses.  On busy weekends all the main local car parks fill up and closing any of them will mean there is insufficient parking to meet demand. 

There seems some doubt as to which car parks other than the DZ one are under threat.  In view of the reference to the car parks serving Hankley and Elstead commons  it is reasonable to assume that the car park on Milford Road could also be targeted. This is the only car park giving access to Royal Common and is very popular.  It gives immediate access to a track which is particular good for wheelchairs and is much used for youngsters learning to ride bikes.     Most tracks in the area are either too steep or too sandy for wheelchairs and this track is promoted as a wheelchair-friendly walk by SCC.

There has been a proposal that the MoD would provide a new car park at the Tweedsmuir Camp on Thursley Road. This area, while pleasant, is quite small and does not link directly with either Hankley or Thursley Common.  Local people occasionally use it for mushrooming, blackberrying etc and the police use if for dog training.  Presumably the MoD are proposing it as an alternative to the DZ car park because they do not use it for training.  But it seems unlikely to be viewed by the public as a fair exchange for the DZ car park.  Few are likely to use it as a base for walking or horse riding as there are no public rights of way associated with it.

More recent reports (eg Elstead News, December 2011) suggest that the army wants to use Hankley and other local commons more intensively and that the closure of car park(s) has more to do with reducing the numbers of people visiting the common, albeit without necessarily taking the much more drastic step of restricting access as such.  Local residents have noticed a significant increase in the army’s use of the commons in the past year. 

The army can be expected to give more details of what it has in mind at a meeting in February to which local councillors have been invited.  From the story so far it has been suggested that the intensification of training has to do with the repatriation of troops from Germany and the urgent need to prepare them for deployment in Afghanistan.  This is unconvincing as the troops are being repatriated between now and 2020 whereas operations in Afghanistan are due to be completed by the end of 2014. 

Looking at the longer term the number of soldiers is set to fall from around 143,000 now (including 33,000 territorials) to 112,000 by 2020 (including 30,000 part-timers).  So across the country as a whole there are going to be a lot fewer people to train.  This remains the case even if one includes the 20,000 currently stationed in Germany.

Why are Surrey commons taking such a disproportionate burden?

It would be interesting to know if our local commons, and especially the 230 hectares of Hankley, have been singled out or whether there are similar issues in respect of other parts of the 160,000 hectares of the MoD’s Rural Estate.  At a time when army bases are tending to be relocated to cheaper parts of the country it is surprising that so much more use is apparently being planned for Surrey’s commons.   Surrey has the highest population density of any non-metropolitan county and its commons serve a large population.  Public access and military training have co-existed perfectly happily for many decades.  With the population of Surrey set to increase over the coming years while the army shrinks in size, a shift in the use of the commons from the civilian population to the army looks hard to justify.

Restrictions on use of tracks other than public rights of way?

The army cannot ban people from public rights of way as the law stands.  However, there have been veiled threats about access to other tracks that criss-cross the commons and where access has always been allowed (and greatly appreciated) hitherto. Any path closures would be counter-productive.  Soldiers use the bridleways a lot, which is perfectly reasonable.  But if one wants to keep out of their way then diverting onto permissive tracks is nearly always possible - there are so many to choose from!  So a multiplicity of tracks makes it easier for the public to steer clear of areas where training exercises are in progress.  Confining public access to rights of way would have a particularly adverse effect on cyclists as some of the bridleways comprise deep sand which makes cycling virtually impossible.  Many of the other tracks are broad and firm and Hankley in particular is excellent for cycling (as evidenced by the fact it is used for major charity rides – eg on 21 January 2012).

Has the army’s attitude changed?

Regular users of the commons have discerned a change in attitude by the army in the past year or two.  It is exemplified by the fact that the Visitors Car Park was created in the 1970s in recognition of the need to enhance public access to a popular area.  There is an understandable suspicion that the transfer of responsibility for managing the commons to a private company, Landmarc, has been accompanied by a less sensitive appreciation of the need for mutual respect and tolerance between the army and the public.  The fact that the army are now one stage removed from the process of land management has perhaps affected the army’s readiness to take account of the wider public interest.

Acknowledgement of this role is set out in MOD's policy as set out in this FAQ on their website:

“Q: Can I walk anywhere on MOD land?

A: It is not possible to have unlimited access because of operational, safety and conservation interests. However, where our duty of care to the general public, safety and security considerations permit, we will seek to increase the overall amount, quality and certainty of access to the estate.“

A core purpose of the army is to safeguard our way of life. For many of us our way of life includes the right to free access to areas of open countryside, many of which are under MOD control, which we have enjoyed hitherto  The army's policy of increasing the "overall amount, quality and certainty of access" is entirely praiseworthy.  It is troubling to find that local management is seeking to move in the opposite direction.  The withdrawal of public facilities coupled with increasing intrusion into the lives of all who live within earshot of the common and use the local roads is something that should be vigorously challenged. 

David Moxon

16 January 2012