MoD accused of land grab over firing range plan for Cumbria
Cumbrian villagers have accused the Ministry of Defence of attempting a “land grab” after a proposal to turn common land into a firing range.
A public inquiry has been launched over plans to remove the common land status from an area of moorland.
Villagers believe transferring ownership of the area to the British army will leave farmers unable to graze a major part of the Pennines.
The taking of common land into private ownership is a controversial practice and led to the creation of 19thcentury conservation movements including the National Trust.
This is the first time since 1914 that the MoD has attempted to take over a piece of land designated as an enclosure. It has applied to “deregister” 4,500 hectares of common land near Warcop Training Area. A 1965 act of parliament ruled that all commons and village greens be listed on a register, and deregistration would, according to the Open Spaces Society, which opposes the plan, transfer ownership of the land to the MoD.
During the inquiry in Kendal, MoD barristers lined up against the Open Spaces Society, the Foundation for Common Land, the Cumbria Federation of Commons, the Friends of the Lake District and the Hilton Commoners.
Julia Aglionby, from the Foundation for Common Land, who presented a submission against the plans, said the law discussed during the two-day hearing was “unbelievably complex”.
“The MOD have effectively said they don’t have to justify what they are doing, they are just going to do it.
“This is completely unnecessary and they have come up with these foundless reasons for why they need to deregister common land. Only 3% of England is common land and it goes back to the heart of people having access to countryside. It is a very emotional issue where effectively poor people have been thrown off the lands since the 16th century and now we are having a 21st century version of this.”
An MoD spokesman said: “We are not proposing to restrict public access in any way and have no plans to sell the land. We have applied to deregister land at Warcop Training Area to safeguard the MoD’s ability to train.”
The inquiry has been adjourned until 30 October.