Secret defence bases go back on the map

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Mon May 27 21:26:16 BST 2002

May 26, 2002
Sunday Times
Secret defence bases go back on the map
Nick Fielding
ONE of the last bastions of cold war paranoia - the ban on identifying defence establishments on Ordnance Survey maps - has fallen victim to advances in technology.

The Fylingdales Early Warning Station in North Yorkshire - former home of the famous "golf balls" - the chemical and biological research station at Porton Down in Wiltshire and the Royal Ordnance factory at Burghfield in Berkshire, where Britain's atomic weapons are assembled, are among dozens of top-secret defence installations that will be added to Britain's maps for the first time. Until now they did not officially exist.
Even the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, southwest of Reading, is to be identified. The base, the size of a small town, is depicted on OS maps as open countryside, fields and trees.  The Ministry of Defence's change of tack has been sparked by technological developments. Every inch of the British Isles has been commercially mapped from the air and close-ups are available on the internet.
Last week Rear Admiral Nick Wilkinson, secretary of the defence, press and broadcasting advisory committee - known as the D-notice committee - agreed that map-makers were now free to portray any of these places.
"We first thought about this two years ago when we changed the D-notice system to allow aerial photographs of such places," said Wilkinson. "We agreed at the same time that it was silly to keep these places off the maps. If it can be seen from the air or from the road, then it can be shown on a map."
Since then the MI6 headquarters at Vauxhall Cross, south London, which it was once technically illegal to photograph, has appeared as the backdrop to a chase scene in a James Bond film. But the practice of keeping such places hidden on publicly available maps continued.
Last week Mark Thomas, the television campaigner, approached Wilkinson to ask why the Royal Ordnance factory at Burghfield was still not shown on maps of the area. Wilkinson said the Ministry of Defence had agreed it was a "nonsense and an error" and Burghfield and similar omissions will appear on future maps. Thomas's programme will be shown this Wednesday on Channel 4.(11pm)

The decision to remove military installations from maps predates the second world war when Whitehall set up a unit to expunge sensitive sites from public documents. The same unit also removed street signs to confuse any invading force.
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