CONTROVERSIAL plans to continue using a quarry near Wellington for live weapons practice by police firearms officers could be decided next month.

Devon and Cornwall Police (DCP) has been using Pondground Quarry, in Holcombe Rogus, as a firing range since the 1970s.

But last year it discovered planning permission had run out in 2014 and it had since been using the site without approval.

An application to Mid Devon District Council (MDDC) to renew planning permission then drew massive opposition from local councillors and residents.

More than 100 letters of objection were submitted to the council, which is expected to put the application to its planning committee meeting in Tiverton on March 1.

DCP said although there was an indoor firing range at its headquarters in Exeter, it also needed the two quarry ranges in Holcombe Rogus for its 180 firearms officers.

Holcombe Rogus parish councillors said there had been ‘serious failings’ in the way MDDC had so far handled the police application, not least its refusal to consider Chartered Institute of Environmental Health guidelines on potential noise impacts.

Parish clerk Leslie Findlay said MDDC did not have a proper understanding of the assessment of noise and a reference to ‘distant pops and bangs’ indicated ‘a complete lack of appreciation of the seriousness of the issues’.

Mrs Findlay said consultants hired by local residents showed noise levels reaching 85dB, which was 30dB above a recommended maximum of 55dB.

She said parish councillors recognised the importance of the police’s work but it was outweighed by substantial negative impacts.

Mrs Findlay said: “Pondground Quarry firing range is no longer suitable for a modern police force.

“It is not fit for purpose.

Holcombe Rogus Wellington police firing range Devon and Cornwall Police planning
The entrance to the police firing range in Holcombe Rogus. (Daniel J. Metcalfe)

“The police authority needs a site that has modern facilities that can achieve the noise limit of 55dB.“Given the size of Devon and Cornwall there will be ample space to have modern facilities that can comply.”

Emma Forward, whose parents live in Pondground Cottage immediately opposite the firing range site, said: “As residents we are, quite frankly, appalled at the behaviour of both the police and the district council over this.

“We are all completely mystified as to why Devon and Cornwall Police are carrying on the way they are carrying on.”

Ms Forward said if the police force could spend £2.6 million on a new sports hall in Exeter as announced last year, it should be able to find the money for a new firing range in a more appropriate location.

Police planning consultant Andy England, of CL Planning, said the quarry had been used under a series of temporary planning permissions for about 40 years without any previous complaints.

Mr England said the consent had been renewed on five separate occasions and it was usual in planning law to give a permanent approval where an activity had been shown to be acceptable.

He said the police had given serious consideration to potential noise impacts and engaged consultants and prepared a noise management plan.

Mr England said MDDC’s own environmental health officer had no outstanding concerns regarding noise and was recommending shooting should be allowed for a maximum of 70 days in a year, but only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for up to six hours and on Thursday mornings for up to three hours.

He said national guidance was that planning decisions should ‘promote public safety and take into account wider security and defence requirements’.