HC Deb 16 February 1970 vol 796 cc46-8W
Mr. Ellis

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is now able to make a statement about the future use of Dartmoor for Service training.

Mr. Hattersley

Yes. The principal licences under which the Services are enabled to train on Dartmoor expire in 1970 and the Government have considered the future need for training facilities there in the light of the redeployment plans for the Services.

The Government recognises the importance of the areas as a National Park and wish to avoid unnecessary restrictions on public access. They can well understand, therefore, the views of the Countryside Commission, the Dartmoor National Park Committee and the interested amenity societies which have strongly represented that all training affecting public access to the Moor should be stopped within five years.

Although there will be some changes in Service units during the next few years, a considerable number, particularly of Royal Marines, are likely to remain in the South-West for the foreseeable future. Service units must have local facilities for training including live firing and exercises with helicopters and there is no suitable alternative to Dartmoor for this purpose.

Discussions have therefore been proceeding for the renewal of the existing licences. Because the need is a long term one I sought the agreement of the Duchy of Cornwall, the principal landowner, to a renewal for 14 years with a break at the end of seven years by which time the requirements of the Services would be reviewed. The Duchy of Cornwall were unable to agree to this and proposed instead that renewal should be for seven years. I have agreed to this on the assumption that if the review, which will be commenced at the end of the 5th year, shows a further renewal to be necessary this will be granted by the Duchy. Detailed negotiations will now proceed to renew all the existing licences on this basis.

The review will ascertain to what extent there would be a continuing need for all or any of the training areas on Dartmoor. The form of the review will be decided nearer the time. But it will be arranged so that the views of all the interests concerned and relevant factors can be fully taken into account and the desirability of some form of public inquiry will be considered.

I shall continue to do all I can to minimise inconvenience to the public resulting from Service training and discussions to this end are continuing between the Services and the Dartmoor National Park Committee. Severe restrictions have already been placed on the use of Dartmoor for live firing. No firing will take place in August or on most weekends. This means that the public will have access to the training areas at the times when there is most demand for such access.

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