Article from Big Issue North magazine of 26 June to 2 July.
MoD plans to de-register seized land
Residents fear their birthright could sell
Cumbrian people feel they have been betrayed by Ministry of Defence plans that could see thousands of hectares of commons land sold into private ownership.
The MoD wants to de-register 9,700 hectares of land near the village of Warcop that it has used as a training range since the Second World War.
In 2001, the MoD acquired all grazing rights on three commons, near Kirkby Stephen and Appleby, against the wishes of local people, who felt use of Hilton, Murton and Warcop was their birthright. But the MoD did promise that it would continue to preserve its status as common land “in perpetuity”.
That meant allowing the public access, on de ned paths, and farm animals to graze when there is no training, and ensuring the land is transferred back to public ownership if the MoD has no further use for it. But now the MoD has applied to Cumbria County Council to de-register the land.
An MoD spokesperson said de-registration would help “to provide more effective military training” but “there were no plans to sell off any land within it”.
William Patterson, vice-chair of Eden District Council and a member of the Hilton Commoners’ Association, said locals, who accept the army’s need to train recruits, feel very strongly about the plans.
“No one was happy at having their land compulsory purchased by the MoD over a decade ago but we felt a degree of satisfaction that it would remain on the commons register,” he said. “We believe the MoD is reneging on its word and using spurious grounds to do so.
“If the MoD marches away, the currently common land should not be left in private hands, which de-registering facilitates. As the MoD intends dumping its original commitments how can we trust its word that it won’t sell the land? Farmers and anyone wanting to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors and walk the land could turn up after the MoD departs and padlocks on the gates.”
The Federation of Cumbria Commoners, which is dedicated to promoting commoning in Cumbria and aims to maintain and improve the viability of hill farming on common land, has made a representation to Cumbria County Council about the application.
Its spokesperson Viv Lewis said she did not trust the MoD and wanted there to be an “open decision making process, including the opportunity for the public to comment on any report prepared by Cumbria County Council’s commons registration officer prior to a final decision by the regulation committee”.
A CCC spokesperson said: “Once the MoD has responded, the council’s common registration service will make a decision on how to adjudicate the applications. It is therefore too early to say what the next stage of this process will be.”