The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and I wish to make the following statement:
Military training takes place within part of the Dartmoor National Park under the terms of a licence granted by the land owner, the Duchy of Cornwall. The current 21-year licence is due to end in 2012. The Ministry of Defence wishes to continue to use this land to deliver military training for the Royal Marines and other armed forces based principally in the south-west of England.
The Government have a duty to ensure that the armed forces are provided with first class training facilities. The rugged terrain and at times hostile weather of Dartmoor provides an ideal environment in which service personnel, particularly Royal Marines, can acquire and maintain skills that enable them to carry out difficult and dangerous tasks across the world.
Our two Departments agreed that prior to the renegotiation of the licence, the Ministry of Defence would establish that there is a continuing need for military training on Dartmoor and that the land would continue to be managed in a sustainable manner. Two separate assessments of military need both concluded that there was a long-term defence requirement and that no suitable alternative land was available within mainland UK. An environmental assessment carried out by independent consultants in 2006-07 considered the economic, social and environmental effects of continued military use at current permitted levels. The reports identify that defence use is carried out in a sustainable manner and with regard to national park purposes. Accordingly, we agree that the licence renegotiation can proceed in order to put in place a licence for a further 21-year period.
In support of the Ministry of Defence’s continuing use of the estate for that period, DEFRA has asked the Ministry of Defence to provide a report at the mid-point which would be a stocktake of the training area’s environmental management system, which includes environmental management tools and monitoring, usage data and public access. It will not include a further justification of continuing military need. During the stocktake the Ministry of Defence will consult with relevant stakeholders.
In coming to this decision, both Ministers have taken into account the ongoing constructive engagement of the Ministry of Defence in improving public access to, and the environmental conservation of Dartmoor. DEFRA looks forward to the Ministry of Defence building on its record of support for national park purposes and for local communities through the sustainable management of the Dartmoor estate.
We confirm that the Dartmoor Steering Group, which is sponsored by both Departments, will continue to act as the best forum for reconciliation of the requirements of military training, conservation and public access and take forward the good work that has already been undertaken under its auspices.