PARISH councillors have accused district planners of not being fair to them when considering plans by Devon and Cornwall Police to extend the use of two firing ranges near Wellington.

The police force has applied to continue using Pondground Quarry, in Holcombe Rogus, after discovering it had been using the site for shooting practice for seven years without permission.

An earlier planning consent expired in 2014 and was not renewed, but police firearms officers carried on practising on the firing ranges.

Devo and Cornwall Police (DCP) said it had about 180 firearms officers, with most training held on an indoor firing range in Exeter. However, it also needed the Holcombe Rogus shooting ranges and wanted to increase the number of live weapons training days from 30 to 141 a year.

Not being able to give live firearms training would cause a breach of the force’s statutory duty and make it difficult to provide the level of police service expected by the public, they said.

More than 100 letters of objection have so far been lodged with Mid Devon District Council (MDDC), with only a handful of people expressing support.

A noise impact assessment by Parker Jones Acoustics showed sound levels of 70 to 85 decibels outside a nearby home, compared to a World Health Organisation recommended limit of 50 to 55 decibels.

Now, Holcombe Rogus parish councillors have expressed their concerns, accusing MDDC of a failure to require or to carry out a robust and objective noise assessment, or to carry out an ecology assessment.

Parish clerk Leslie Findlay said: “It is very difficult not to take the view that MDDC has so far in this case abandoned the high standard of due diligence that our council has come to expect. This needs to be rectified.”

Mrs Findlay said parish councillors had reached that view after considering the responses MDDC officers had made to the numerous objectors.

She said the police did not dispute the Parker Jones Acoustics findings, yet the constabulary appeared to be ‘seeking planning permission without any effective and enforceable controls on the noise levels arising the firing range activities’.

Mrs Findlay said: “This is totally unacceptable. It is not an option for the police authority to continue to subject our community and those living nearby to the level of harm currently being suffered.”

She said unless the force agreed to a 50dB benchmark, it would need to move its firing ranges to an alternative site.

A joint letter signed by more than 20 residents of neighbouring Greenham parish said the approach of DCP was ‘poles apart from’ that of Avon and Somerset Police, which used a 55dB benchmark when it applied for a firing range at its Portishead headquarters.

The residents said: “People who live in the countryside, including family and friends visiting, do so for tranquillity and quality of life.

“Gunfire and the nature of its sudden outbursts is extremely disturbing and distressing, unlike the more general noise of farm machinery.

“Some residents have likened it to living on the edge of a war zone.”

MDDC said a further public consultation had been carried out and the firing range application could be put to a planning committee meeting on November 30 or January 4, depending on how long it took to analyse the latest responses.