The Ministry of Defence has been forced to admit that Fylingdales, the remote Yorkshire radar base earmarked for a frontline role in the US Star Wars defence programme, has been upgraded, secretly and without planning permission.
The building of a new road in the complex, changes to the access road and the installation of an additional, razorwire perimeter fence have been condemned by the National Parks watchdog.
Vicki Elcoate, director of the Council for National Parks (CNP), said: "There have been many concerns about plans to upgrade Fylingdales for the US 'son of Star Wars' missile system. This incident has heightened concerns that Fylingdales could be developed by the back door, without proper public scrutiny."
The Defence minister Lewis Moonie and CNP had a weekend meeting after the National Park Authority was informed of the changes. The new road drains on to a site of special scientific interest and work has been stopped, leaving the road incomplete. Necessary notification of the proposed work must now be given retrospectively.
The veteran activist Lindis Percy, who was at the perimeter fence for five hours undetected two days ago, has also seen a deep trench outside it.
Ms Percy and other activists regularly examine planning applications to the National Park to guard against "quiet" improvements to the secretive base, the centre of which is a 32m-high irregular pyramid no British minister has entered.
The MoD said planning procedures had been "unintentionally overlooked" while "a number of measures to improve security at the base" were being made. But activists have been saying for some weeks that preparations for Fylingdales' role in Star Wars – said to include a 14-storey building – may be made on the basis of security because of the 11 September attacks.
"This is what we have been seeing at Lakenheath [RAF base in Suffolk] since 11 September," Ms Percy said. "Public footpaths and a road have been closed there in the name of security."
Last year, Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, made a commitment to adhering to the local planning system at such bases, except when national security was at risk.
This erodes the ability of the MoD to use Crown immunity to steamroller local planning inspectors, but the Government is also expected to issue a consultative paper on the removal of all Crown immunity this spring.Reuse content