MoD should concede it needs to rebuild public trust

Date: Monday 24th December 2018

Sir, At a time when it is common to express grumbles about government, of whatever level, I think it only fair to praise Cumbria County Council for its handling of the Warcop area common land applications.

The MoD’s applications to deregister the three commons with invitations to make representations were originally published in March, 2017.

After consideration of all such representations, a member of the Government’s legal department wrote a detailed reply dated 4th July, 2017, indicating that he felt all the issues had been raised before. He concluded by saying he looked forward to receiving confirmation that Cumbria County Council had indeed deregistered the commons.

After reapplications were published earlier this year and some of us made further representations, the same lawyer dismissed these as containing nothing new and merely sent a second copy of his July, 2017, letter.

It is therefore much to the county council’s credit that, instead of buckling to this pressure, it decided to hold a public inquiry.

Heartfelt thanks are therefore due to the staff of the Commons Registration Service and any other county council officers involved — and, of course, the county councillors involved in the vote on 6th December.

Some outside our county council who played a part have been reported or quoted in your pages. Too many to mention have devoted much time, thought and energy to these matters. If I dare name just two, I think they have to be Hugh Craddock, of the Open Spaces Society, and George Laurence QC, who so generously provided his services pro bono.

The inspector’s report following the recent public inquiry was indeed detailed and thorough. Paragraph 6.7.5.13 begins: “I should also add that there is no inconsistency per se between dry training and public access.”

I mention this because I was reliably informed on Monday that the MoD still hopes to have the Area Victor part of Murton Fell deregistered as common land. Whether this means the MoD will seek judicial review remains to be seen.

I note also that, as stated on its website and reported elsewhere, the Foundation for Common Land intends to consult with other objectors on whether to seek judicial review.

Although there is a strong feeling of relief as reported by the Herald last Saturday, despite the loss of Hilton, Burton and Warcop Fells as common land, it seems therefore that the matter might not yet be settled.

Section 2.7.7 of the report by Alan Evans QC begins: “It is understandable that many objectors regard the MoD, in making the applications, to be acting, in effect, in breach of its undertaking not to apply to deregister the commons.”

In view of the way the MoD went about the cancellation of that undertaking, it is disappointing if it cannot accept matters as they stand and quietly concede that it needs to rebuild public trust and confidence. Yours etc,

JIM HARDMAN

By email