CONTORVERSY continues to surround plans for two shooting ranges near the quiet community of Eskdalemuir.
Last week the E&L Advertiser reported that retrospective applications had been submitted for land at Over Cassock and Clerkhill, both ranges operated by Gardners Guns of Longtown.
Eskdalemuir community council was initially told that the proposals were major developments and would trigger pre-application public consultations.
However, its chairman, Nick Jennings, said last week he was annoyed that this would no longer happen because they had been reclassified as minor developments.
Last November Steve Rogers, head of economy and development, wrote to Malcolm Stirland, the agent for the Over Cassock range, who submitted a retrospective application last April.
He asked Mr Stirland to confirm the area covered by the change of use.
He wrote: “It is unclear from the submitted plans exactly where the change of use is taking place.
“The form says the site is 154.5 m² and appears to be sufficient for the siting of the firing point building but not for a rifle range.
“The 50 calibre shooters association says its weapons usage range is more than 1,000 yards (914m) and it is unclear how this can be accommodated in the area shown on the submitted location plan and indicated in the application form.”
Four weeks ago Robert Duncan, team leader (major applications), also wrote to Mr Stirland after additional information was submitted in December.
He wrote: “Working from the plan scale, the area over which live firing will take place is indicated at about 8.9 hectares.
“Applications for planning permission on land of more than two hectares constitute major developments and are subject to a number of statutory requirements, including a period of pre-application engagement with communities.
“As the proposal is a major development, the council can’t determine this application and you should arrange for it to be withdrawn at the earliest convenience.”
However, two weeks ago the council told Mr Jennings that both ranges were now considered to be minor developments at fewer than two hectares. Over Cassock was 1.45 and Clerkhill was 1.18.
The retrospective application for Clerkhill was submitted last November. “Temporary works” had already been done several months earlier.
George Birrell, who manages Eskdalemuir Forestry, said: “The range on Clerkhill has been developed with Gardners Guns Ltd after their move from the Over Cassock range where they had successfully operated a range for some years.
“Planning for the Clerkhill range was first sought in early 2020 and we have been in touch with the council since then on this project.
“The Clerkhill range has been operated on occasion within the current legal framework.
“The site has been designed to the highest specifications for safety and has all the relevant certification in place for use as a range.
“Further input to the range has been sought from other recognised national organisations which would seek to use it for training purposes.
“The range is unique and several organisations have expressed an interest in using it.
“This will provide opportunities for businesses and a considerable boost to the economy.”
Will Jackson, a council environmental health officer, said: “This service objects to the proposal at Over Cassock unless certain criteria are met.
“A noise assessment should be done to confirm the rated noise level at the proposed properties will not be such to cause an adverse or significant adverse impact on indoor and outdoor spaces.
“Should noise from the site be predicted to cause an adverse or significant adverse impact, the consultant’s report should propose a scheme for noise attenuation.”
He added that the site should not operate until this was in place.
Oliver Mundell, Dumfriesshire MSP, said: “A number of residents have contacted me expressing concern about the activity linked to shooting ranges in Eskdalemuir.
“I have asked Dumfries and Galloway Council to clarify its role in approving this.
“We need to find a fair balance between supporting employment and business activity and ensuring those in the valley can continue to enjoy a peaceful existence.
“But, most of all, we all want to see reassurance that the correct permissions and safety requirements are in place.”
One resident said: “I live in a farmland valley close by the range at Clerkhill and can testify to levels and duration of noise emitting from its use which are truly industrial in scale.
“The recent exercise by US special forces took this noise pollution to a war-zone standing which I can only describe as a deliberate and conscious act of social and environmental vandalism on the part of those who facilitated it.”
Both ranges are close to the Kagyu Samye Ling Tibetan Centre and the Purelands Retreat where the monastery’s Abbot lives.
Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche said: “I’ve never been an extremist.
“I like to live in harmony with the good people in this region and feel very grateful to live in such a beautiful peaceful place.
“But, in recent years, there has gradually been more and more shooting in the valley, close to our monastery and the retreat centre where I stay.
“Almost everyone in the whole valley around Samye Ling is Buddhist and for a Buddhist it is absolutely unthinkable to kill. So, to hear a lot of loud gunshots is deeply upsetting for them all.
“We really want to ask the authorities not to let these firing ranges be so close to our monastery and to move them somewhere else.”