An insight into Altcar Training Camp in Hightown by Chief Executive, Colonel Mark Underhill
Dear Residents of Hightown & Formby,
ALTCAR TRAINING CAMP - UPDATE
What a year from March 2020 to the end of March 2021! The COVID pandemic has certainly applied some very demanding challenges on us all. Hopefully as the COVID restrictions ease, I do very much hope everyone manages to get some time off which they can spend with their families and friends. We will all need to get acclimatised to the new normal whatever that turns out to be.
The aim of this letter is to introduce myself to you and to offer you and your families the ability to be briefed on Altcar Training Camp. For those of you who are not aware of the camp or its outputs, I hope the information below is of use for you.
I am Colonel Mark Underhill, and I am the Chief Executive of the organisation on the top of this letter head. Altcar Training Camp, whilst fully funded by the Ministry of Defence, is owned and managed by the Association I run.
The mission of Altcar Training Camp is to:
Deliver a safe, sustainable and managed training estate and range complex to support the training requirements ensuring maximum use of the estate is used for:
• Regular tri-Service Units (Army, Royal Navy & Air Force)
• Reserve tri-Service Units (Army, Royal Navy & Air Force)
• Cadet Units (Combined Cadet Force, Army Cadet Force, Royal Air Force Air Cadets and Sea Cadet Corps
And to enable irreducible spare capacity to be used for:
• Other Government Departments e.g. Police & other Emergency Services
• Other users through the Alternative Venues initiative – hiring out elements of the estate when not required
In addition to the above, we must be prepared to provide accommodation and training facilities for operational surge activities/requirements. In terms of surge deployments, the camp and the Armed Forces has definitely stepped up this year to support both mobile and mass testing for COVID in the North West under Military Aid to the Civil Authorities. Altcar Training Camp has been used extensively throughout by the military for deployment.
Facts & Figures: Altcar Training Camp is split by the River Alt – the camp, accommodation and real life support services are on the east side of the river and the ranges and training area are on the west side of the river. The two respective sides of the camp are over 620 acres and the association also owns and controls an additional 500 acres of foreshore [Note: when the red flags are flying the beach is out of bounds].
COVID has meant that camp activity has been different but of course so has everything outside the training camp. For comparison, activity figures for pre-COVID and during the pandemic are as follows:
• Pre-COVID. Over 111,863 “heads on beds” in 2019. During the COVID restriction it fell to 45,561 for the year 2020 i.e. Service personnel sleeping overnighton camp.
• Pre-COVID. We had over 17,033 visitors in 2019 who come in/out of the camp to conduct military or other authorised training or used the site but who did not sleep overnight. Due to COVID 19 lockdown, this number was significantly reduced.
• On a normal year we would fire over 1.7 million rounds fired down the various range complex’s which are open for approximately 285 days every year. During the COVID year, this has been significantly reduced to 749,213 in 2020.
Training for Regular military unit activity on site has never really stopped – it did reduce/has been limited during the pandemic. The use of the site by our reservists also reduced and there has been no cadet activity for over 12 months. I’m however, pleased to say that normal military training activity at this site is picking up. Altcar Training Camp is a prime location for back to basics soldiering, as a result, bookings for the site are starting to take shape.
Night shoots: We have a number of night shoots each year and the dates for these shoots are published monthly on the Hightown Face Book page they are also published on the Hightown Parish Council website: http://hightownparishcouncil.co.uk/latest-news/. These night shoots are an essential element of training for our Armed Forces and I would ask you to bear with us as they train during hours of dusk and darkness.
Helicopter Activity: In addition to our main training efforts, we have a number of helicopters that use the camp throughout the year. We have had, on occasions over 10 helicopters based on site in one go and they fly during the hours of darkness; many of you will have heard them. Please note that we are to have a number of helicopters being based on Altcar Training Camp over a number of days in July 2021; they will be flying throughout the day and late at night. We will pass out advance warning of this helicopter activity once known and this will be placed on social media and in prominent places in Hightown. I must add, that at this stage, due to COVID and their operational flying programme, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to have residents come onto camp to view them. Unfortunately, last time the helicopters were on site, a number of trespassers entered the site to view the helicopter platforms on the ground. This was unauthorised trespass and as a site we warn against such activity. This practice is indeed dangerous. Please stay off camp and stick to the public footpath that surrounds the camp. The site is littered with military debris and these can be dangerous if handled incorrectly. Removing some of the military debris off site could cause harm or even constitute a criminal offence. We advise, by way of obvious boundary signage that people should not enter the camp.
Field Supply Area (FSA):
The new Field Supply Area (FSA) is now completed (see picture above). An outdoor classroom/Dutch barn is being built on site – this is a temporary structure to facilitate outdoor teaching and training; this will complete the site. It has been used by a number of units to date and we expect usage will significantly increase when the ‘new normal – post-COVID is applied.
Sadly the bad weather over the winter and the above normal amount of rain has brought its own issues to the site. Some may be aware that we have an urban complex on site – several buildings. This village (Williamsville) is known as the FIBUA. This stands for Fighting In a Built Up Area. As you can see from the under mentioned, some of the buildings have been under water and access to the buildings has not been possible. This is an essential part of the site and is used for training by our regulars, reservists and cadets.
The village provides urban training opportunities. Urban warfare is combat conducted in urban areas. Urban combat differs from combat in the open at both the operational and tactical levels. Complicating factors in urban warfare include the presence of civilians and the complexity of the urban terrain. Our military train to carry out attacks, patrol and defend such facilities. As urban warfare is time-consuming and costly in manpower and tactical assaults and can include dealing with booby-trapped buildings, there is a need to maintain the integrity of these buildings to support the defence effort and provide suitable structures for urban combat training/operations. Work is ongoing to rectify the flooded structures.
Ranges. The inclement weather has affected many of the ranges. However, one range in particular has been particularly damaged - M Range is a licenced live firing range and a critical MOD asset. It is the second most heavily used range on site. This range is the furthest away from Hightown – the most northerly live firing range on site. The range has multiple functions: It provides controlled and safe firing for weapons that need ‘zeroing and grouping’ in order to allow weapon systems to be used elsewhere on site/other ranges. In addition to the above, multiple units use the range for Close Quarter Battle (CQB) engagement. Access to this range has been denied due to severe flooding to the site. Work to drain the range is ongoing as you will see from the picture below. The range cannot be used as it is currently unsafe. We have several bookings for this range so this work is a priority.
New build of office accommodation – Alt House: We have also briefed the residents of a new build that will commenced in April 2019 – the new headquarters for my organisation. The build comprises a two-story office building located near the southern boundary of Altcar Training Camp, not far from the main entrance. It is a modern, sustainable and eco-friendly building (footprint c400sq metres) with an associated car park (footprint c600sq metres) which will provides an enduring base for our ongoing work in support of the Reserve Forces and Cadet organisations in the region. The building was completed last November, and I and my staff now work from this infrastructure.
With various facilities on camp – we have plenty of space to keep the users busy – such as an excellent football and rugby pitch as well as a fully fitted and fantastic gym:
The PODs: This great voluntary project for our wounded injured and sick soldiers, sailors and airman, which has really caught the imagination of the local residents, is completed. During the COVID pandemic, site access has been limited. Altcar staff have maintained a weekly check of the premises and where work was required, have applied such an effort. During the pandemic and when periodically restrictions were lifted, Veterans from time-to-time (under COVID guidelines) have attended the site to carry out general site maintenance.
And a little bit of history: Normally, Altcar Training Camp would close down for Christmas/New Year. Christmas & New Year just gone was an exception. During the COVID pandemic we had the pleasure of hosting for the duration of 3 months, a Royal Signals contingent of 100 Gurkha soldiers as they went through various basic training modules on site. The culmination was their passing out parade where they swore allegiance to Queen and Country. This was all managed in a COVID compliant way.
We were delighted to have them on site for 3 months. The permanent staff and instructors realised what Altcar can offer and so they have made a similar booking for this coming December/January so for the second time in Altcar’s history, the sire will remain open over the Christmas/New Year period.
Moving forward: So, as we come out of lockdown, our bookings are increasing and we are looking forward to seeing the camp fill up again. This will bring the inevitable increased traffic into/out of Hightown. In addition, there will always be the requirement to have heavy equipment/vehicles enter and leave the site. I know for those living on the roads entering and leaving Hightown this brings frustrations – but it is a necessary activity and I thank you for your forbearance and understanding. The camp has outlived us all – and will do so for many years to come!!
So, with all the above in mind, noting that we are an extremely busy camp and training area, and that you live within the vicinity of Altcar Training Camp, I would like to offer you and your families the opportunity of coming onto site, meeting the commandant and I (with our wives) and allowing us to brief you further on Altcar Training Camp and showing you around the facilities.
Details of I and the commandant are as follows:
Mark Underhill (me):
Alt Grange, Grange Road, Altcar Training Camp, HIGHTOWN, Merseyside, L38 7JD
Home Telephone: 0151 541 5740 / Mobile: 07779 134355
Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Black (Commandant Altcar Training Camp):
If you would like to take up our offer would you be so kind to drop us an email and we will organises a date(s) and come back to you. In the meantime, if you have any questions then please feel free to contact Gordon or I.
With every good wishes to you and your families and friends for 2021 and fingers crossed that we can reach some form of normality sooner rather than later.