CONTROVERSIAL plans for police armed response officers to continue using two live firing ranges in a former quarry near Holcombe Rogus, Wellington, look set to be approved next week.

A heated debate on the village and surrounding areas has raged for 16 months since Devon and Cornwall Police (DCP) asked Mid Devon District Council (MDDC) to renew a permission first given in 1978.

The council has received more than 100 letters of objection from villagers and parish councils in Holcombe Rogus and nearby Stawley because of noise nuisance concerns and worries about the impact on wildlife, while five letters were in support.

DCP previously was granted a series of temporary planning permissions up to 2014, after which the constabulary forgot to apply for a renewal and continued to use the site until the error was spotted last year.

Now, the district council, which became Liberal Democrat-controlled at last May’s elections, is being recommended to give the police a ‘temporary’ 20-year consent to carry on with live firing practice in Pondground Quarry, a mile outside Holcombe Rogus.

The application will be put to a planning committee meeting being held in the council’s Tiverton headquarters at 2.15 pm on Wednesday (September 27).

Planning officer Adrian Devereaux said the previous temporary permissions for the firing ranges did not have any conditions covering the terms of the shooting and when it could take place, so a consent granted now could impose binding restrictions.

Mr Devereaux said the police at first wanted to carry out shooting on 141 days a year but because of the public objections and comments from consultees the force had scaled it back to 70 days.

He recommended councillors should agree the plans with the 70-day limit and conditions that firing only took place up to 47 weeks of the year with none during the Christmas fortnight or in the first three weeks of August.

There should be a maximum of 2.5 days shooting in any given week, and it should only take place on a Tuesday, and Wednesday between 9 am and 5 pm and on a Thursday between 9 am and 1 pm.

Mr Devereaux said police held a special live firing exercises in August and the beginning of September for local Lib Dem MP Richard Foord and district councillors to experience the noise which was generated, including both ranges in use at the same time to demonstrate the loudest it would ever be.

He said the police had a single indoor firing range at the force’s Exeter headquarters but more capacity was needed, and military sites were already at full capacity, hence the Pondground Quarry site had been used.

Training for up to 150 shooters was needed but currently the force could only achieve between 110 and 120.

Mr Devereaux said armed response officers were accredited annually and had to attend training spread across the year and qualify every six months in each firearm - pistol, carbine, and shotgun.

He said: “This is non-negotiable and will result in officers losing their accreditation if they do not meet this requirement.”

Mr Devereaux said Home Office statistics showed the population of the Westcountry had increased in the past decade and gun crime had also gone up, but an increase in police numbers had not kept pace.