For generations there have been excellent relations between Colchester Garrison and the civilian population, but actions by some outfit called the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (part of the Ministry of Defence) – not, I hasten to add, by the Army leadership at the garrison – have soured those relationships.

First it was the MOD decision to close the popular car park at Friday Wood, and now the decision to close off access points to Middlewick with the cynical claim that this is for safety reasons and nothing to do with the MOD’s intention to sell Middlewick for a huge housing estate.


My 60 years knowledge of the firing ranges at Middlewick is that I am not aware of a single incident where a member of the public has been injured by the firing.

So far as the MOD’s closing off of access points to land bordered on the north by Abbot’s Road is concerned, I would observe that the soldiers using the ranges for practice are several hundred yards away – and are firing (under strict supervision) in the opposite direction!

There is no danger to anyone using this area of Middlewick whatsoever.

Indeed – as my photograph shows – the blocking of some access points does not prevent access from other points, for the official sign informs people that they can access 250 yards away.

MOD desk-bound jobsworths are just being bloody-minded in making life awkward for local residents, but hopefully such ham-fisted action will spur people into redoubling their opposition to the loss of Middlewick.

What has happened is a smokescreen to hide what is the MOD’s ultimate objective, which is to build 2,000 houses at Middlewick, which was their original intention.

People are wrong to blame Colchester Borough Council.

It is the Government, through the Ministry of Defence, which wants to shut the firing ranges and build houses there.

The council has cut that figure in half.

I am aware that there are those who feel that paths created by generations of Colchester residents across Middlewick give some hope that they can be registered as public footpaths and help prevent the development.

I wish that was true. Two years ago I took legal advice, at my own expense, from a solicitor who deals with planning matters.

Yes, there are a couple of official public footpaths but all the others are unofficial – and cannot be made official.

All around Middlewick there are notices displayed by the MOD which, in lay terms, basically say: “We own Middlewick. You are free to use it, with our permission. Walking across it does not give you any legal rights.”

In truth there is only one sure way development of Middlewick can be stopped. That is for the Ministry of Defence, thus the Government, to change the decision to shut the firing ranges.

The alternative is for those who know the facts (or should at least ascertain the facts) to concentrate on trying to amend the Local Plan when details such as the Middlewick proposals are brought forward at a future date for consideration.

In the meantime, soured relationships between the Army and the civilian population would be improved if those in charge of Middlewick unblocked the pedestrian access points.

Sir Bob Russell

Catchpool Road, Colchester