Residents and Councillors in Old Heath were shocked to wake up last week and find that several entrances to Middlewick Ranges had been closed by the Ministry of Defence. Entrances along Abbots Road have had their stiles removed and have been blocked off to access for the public. The Ministry of Defence say they have made this decision due to increased incursions on the popular site when firing was taking place.
Resident’s fear that there are ulterior motives behind these closures, citing the decision by the MoD to sell the site for housing. Middlewick Ranges was one of several sites announced in 2016 to be sold for housing as the MoD looks to balance it’s budget. Middlewick was initially earmarked for 2000 homes by the MoD, while Colchester Council reduced this number to 1000. Local councillors have been lobbying the MoD to take the site off the table when it comes to housing.
Cllr Lee Scordis, Councillor for Old Heath & the Hythe (Lab), stated “This is a really disappointing decision by the MoD. Although I condemn those walking on the site when firing is taking place, I have written to the MoD about the lack of visibility of the red flags on large swathes of Abbots Road. I asked if another flag could be installed but I received no reply. Instead their decision is to block access to the public. This includes blocking access to the entrance closest to the school. Surely we should be encouraging school children to walk along this stunning trail and away from the polluted road. As councillors the MoD usually update us monthly on any issues. We have not been informed of an increase in incursions, nor were we made aware of the decision to close these footpaths. With the amount of support Colchester has shown the military, this is once again the MoD treating Colchester with contempt over this site.
“I also fear that these closures are in preparation for future development. I am currently in the process of getting residents to register these footpaths with Highways department to protect them in the case of any development. The majority are not registered as official footpaths and I need to gather evidence from residents that they are regularly used. The MoD clearly do not want this as this will affect their initial consultation for housing. I would ask local residents who use these footpaths regularly to please contact me at Lee.Scordis@colchester.gov.uk so we can register these footpaths for future generations to use”.