The MOD Defence Infrastructure Organisation presented MOD policies for the management of the Defence Training Estate on Hankley Common at the Elstead Annual Council Meeting in April.

This initiative was proposed at the first meeting of the new Hankley Users Group, which was set up as a result of meetings with the MOD organised by Waverley Councillor Jenny Else this year, to improve liaison and communication between the MOD and local users of Hankley Common. 

Mark Ludlow, Lt Col (Ret’d), is the Training Safety Officer, Security and Access, for the South East. He explained the pressures facing the Army in the immediate future, including the return of all troops from Germany and Afghanistan, the reduction in the regular armed services and the increase in the reserves.

The changes mean making more use of the training facilities in the South East. Hankley Common is ideal for basic infantry training and for volunteer reserves and cadets and this will mean more training on the Common at weekends. It is likely that the Common will also be used for training with light armoured transport, but not tracked vehicles.

Questions were asked about the future of the central car park - its use by the public might be restricted in the future. The Houndown Lane car park could be extended to provide more space. 

Chalky White, Training Safety Marshal, explained some aspects of Army training, especially the need for civilians to avoid disturbing training activities. Soldiers sleeping between night operations and snipers on concealment exercises were particularly mentioned.

Problems are caused by motor bikes and fly-tipping on the Common and the public are asked to report any incidents to the Police on 101 and to Chalky White or the Longmoor Guardroom immediately. Once the Police have been informed the Training Safety Marshal can take immediate action. Under the Byelaws MOD Marshals have full constabulary powers on the MOD estate.

 Chalky White: 07887 526 194

 Longmoor Guardroom: 01420 483 399

(Note: Neither Army Marshals nor Landmarc wardens have any authority on Houndown Lane or on the track leading from the Thursley Road past the central car park to the Lions Mouth as they are not on MOD land. The central car park is owned by the MOD.)

The Hankley Users Group has been formed to improve relations between the Army and civilian users of the Common. If anybody has any problems they should contact a member of the HUG who will advise on the best way to proceed. Membership of this group consists of representatives of the Ramblers Association, the British Horse Society, the CTC (cyclists), local residents, Parish Councils and the MOD.

The MOD intends to set up a new access route for horse and cycle riders around the south and west of the Common. It is intended that this will run from the southern end of Houndown Lane round the southern perimeter of the Common to Grange Road, via the Pitch Place car park. Existing bridleways will remain unchanged. This will enable cyclists and horse riders to cross the Common while avoiding busy narrow roads and the central part which is used most for training.

There are still a number of access issues to be resolved but the new willingness of the MOD to engage directly with the public is a great improvement and will hopefully lead to a restoration of the good relations enjoyed in the past.

Other issues discussed.

  1. Gate on Bridleway 101 by the central car park. Mark was asked on what authority the MOD had installed and controlled a locked gate on land not owned by them. He will investigate this and asked for more information on its history. A local resident pointed out that before the gate was installed he used to drive across the Common to the Duke of Cambridge on the Tilford Road and take his children down to the Dropping Zone. (Note: Houndown Lane and the track leading from the Thursley Road past the central car park to the Lions Mouth are both bridleways. Horses, cyclists and walkers have absolute right of way over any motor vehicles. Neither of these bridleways is on MOD land, as shown on the map attached to the Byelaws posted at entrances to the Common. The gate by the car park is an obstruction on Bridleway 101 but it has remained unchallenged since it was installed because it prevents off road vehicles from accessing the Common at this point.)
  2. Central car park. Mark explained the Army view of its status as an area for military vehicles unloading soldiers for training. He was asked whether the Army intends to close it at some time in the future. Mark did not answer that directly but indicated that its use by the public might be restricted in future. (Note: After the meeting Chalky White said that he had on occasion needed to park six coaches there as they did not have the key to the gate, which has to be collected from Longmoor.) The car park is on land owned by the MOD. It has been marked as a car park on OS maps since 1998 but the MOD intend to remove this from the next issues of the maps.
  3. Houndown new car park. During the meeting Mark said that it would be left open at all times. (Note: After the meeting it was suggested to him that there should be a notice at the car park indicating this and another at the crossroads pointing to it.) Several people pointed out that it is too small and that it does not give good access to the Common for less able people and young children. He said that it could be extended to provide more space and after the meeting it was suggested that this would take a lot of pressure off the central car park and save having to close it.
  4. Filming. Mark was asked why the MOD is actively promoting the use of Hankley Common for filming and sports events when there is a greater need for it to be used for training. He said that this is a government requirement for the MOD to generate revenue from the Defence Estates. A Parish Councillor pointed out that planning permission is required for any such activity on the Common.
  5. Other possible training areas.  Mark said that the areas around Aldershot were fully allocated for other purposes. There is one area near Church Crookham that might have been available but confusion over land sold by the MOD for an adjacent development contract resulted in it having to be used for public access, including horse and cycle riding. Asked whether there are bridleways on this land the answer was no and the riding is permissive. Asked why the land had been sold Mark replied that the MOD was under pressure from the Treasury to raise funds.
  6. Armoured vehicles. Information was given by Chalky White on the different types of wheeled armoured vehicle in use, ranging in size from the Mastiff (lorry size) down to the Jackal (Landrover size). Concern was raised by several people about the larger vehicles, including their impact on the SSSI environment and problems taking large numbers of the bigger vehicles through the villages on the way to the Common. Mark said that if necessary tracks would be hardened to take the vehicle use. It is unlikely that the larger vehicles would be used on Hankley Common and that in most cases the access route would be through Hindhead from Longmoor Camp. (Note: This leads to four access points in the South West of the Common at Grange Road, Sandy Lane, the fish ponds and Pitch Place.)
  7. Use of bridleways. Cyclists and horse riders will still be restricted to the bridleways on Hankley Common. A cyclist pointed out that some of the bridleways are not in good enough condition for cycling and asked that the MOD consider improving the worst parts.
  8. Live ammunition. Mark was asked whether live ammunition would ever be discharged on Hankley Common. Mark said that Hankley Common is not suitable for this type of exercise but blank ammunition and pyrotechnics are used to prepare trainees for live firing exercises elsewhere.
  9. Safety precautions. Mark explained that safety for both trainees and the public was a high priority but that they have to provide a challenging environment for exercises and make them as close as possible to the dangerous real world of conflict. To avoid risks to the public the Army have imposed restrictions on the use of bank ammunition and pyrotechnics close to the bridleways when civilians are present.  In a recent incident a young Gurkha soldier had to make a quick choice between obeying orders and firing on advancing "enemy" cadets or holding fire because of the presence of a civilian who was trying to control two loose dogs. In general civilians may be asked to wait for a short while, to avoid having to stop an exercise.   On the bridleways sentries will be posted to prevent incidents. Mark displayed a map showing the safety zones around the bridleways on the southern part of the Common, 100 metres (green) for blank ammunition, 300 metres (orange)  for pyrotechnics. The double red lines show highway land outside the training area, not under MOD control.

Hankley Safety Zones