Hack writer

Hack writer

About this blog

This blog records occasional comments affecting hack riders' use of Epsom and Walton Downs, including reports from meetings of the Conservators and the Consultative Committee. See the downs web page for more information about riding on the downs.

Meeting, 4 October 2017

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 04 Oct, 2017 17:50:38

Cedar Point: planning applications had been made which would bring racing use of the yard to an end. The Jockey Club has objected.

Staffing of downskeepers: the staff are now up to a full complement.

Mid-year budget: the external auditors have signed off the 2016–17 accounts, but questioned the delayed sign-off to the accounts because the June meeting was inquorate. A £4.3k overspend was forecast for 2017–18 owing to unexpected VAT costs. Balances remained healthy. It was agreed to aim for a 2% budget increase in 2018–19.

Events approvals: a large number of events were up for approval, including some imminent ones. The Mole Valley Orienteering Club had applied for approval for an event (on the 22 October!) which was novel for the downs, but expected to have less impact than events using planned routes. A list of events was read out to the conservators by the chairman, but with the member most critical of events absent, there was less comment. There was a discussion about the timing of approvals for a particular season, as not all events for a particular season were presented for approval at the same meeting. Officers explained that organisers of large events preferred to seek approval well in advance, whereas those of smaller events saw no need to do so until closer to the event. However, there was no guarantee that all high impact events planned for a particular season would be presented to conservators for determination at the same meeting. The Race for Life was approved for 24 June 2018 and the Memory Walk (Alzheimer's Society) for 23 September 2018 — both major impact events — but the latter was capped at 2,000 participants (compared with the 4,000 sought). Officers commented that the Race for Life had in the past been capped at 4,000 including spectators, and was now committed to a maximum number of 1,650 participants. Officers were asked to prepare a paper for a future meeting to review maximum event numbers.

Hack sand track: it was asked if the track had deteriorated further. The head downskeeper said it had got worse as there was no maintenance. The chairman proposed that the board write to local stables to inform hack riders of the poor state of the track. A member added that the letter should explain the context, why the track was not maintained. Concern was also expressed that a letter might suggest the board had some liability, but the chairman said the letter would make clear that the board was not liable. A member questioned the purpose of the letter [Ed: the chairman failed to point out that the purpose of the letter was to identify that the sand track was unsafe, and therefore to avoid harm to hack riders and their mounts] and the conclusion of the meeting was that no letter should be sent.

Signs audit: a report proposing a schedule for replacing signs on the downs would be presented to the meeting in January 2018.

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Meeting, 19 April 2017

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 19 Apr, 2017 17:33:13

Clerk to the conservators: Following the resignation of the previous clerk and chief executive to the council, the new clerk, Kathryn Beldon, was welcomed as ex officio clerk to the conservators, and Lee Duffy as interim treasurer.

Training Grounds Management Board: copies of a new leaflet, A Vision for Epsom, were circulated at the meeting, promoting use of the downs for training. [Ed: as an aside, the leaflet documents the decline in horses in training on the downs from over 600 in the 1960s to just 135 now. It vividly maps how many yards have been lost to development, including a cluster in Langley Vale and another cluster north of the downs. Some former yards were located so far from the downs (including one at or near Glanmire Farm, and another near the Brighton Road near Burgh Heath) that one wonders whether they trained on the downs at all. I've put the leaflet in a subsequent post.]

Hack sand track: officers had now written again to the Horse Race Levy Board about its position on the sand track. No response had been received.

Afternoon patrols: additional patrols are now being carried out in the afternoon to deal with hack riders straying onto the training grounds.

Water leak: a leak had been found in the supply to the downskeepers' hut and it was proposed to reroute the mains supply away from but parallel to Tattenham Corner Road west of the hut — the work would take place over a week, but probably postponed until after the Derby.

Policy to regulate small group sessions on the downs: it was observed that the conservators had no policy to deal with small groups using the downs perhaps for commercial or regular purposes, such as commercial exercise classes, and a new policy was proposed to cover such uses. There was concern that these uses could conflict with training and other uses. It was planned to charge a minimum of £25 per session. There was recognition that it would be difficult to distinguish, say, joggers on public rights of way [Ed: or indeed, anywhere else on the downs] from semi-formal training sessions. The trainers' representative was concerned about impact on horses in training, particularly in the morning, and referred to difficulties encountered with people engaged in kick-boxing training, which, despite a good dialogue with those concerned, was still affecting horses in the vicinity. The racecourse sensibly asked what controls existed at present to control such activities: the trainers' representative [Ed: rather wishfully] thought that repeated activities would cause damage and therefore would be subject to regulation, while officers mentioned a byelaw against 'organised games' and suggested that this illustrated a wider power to prevent damage to the downs [Ed: without specifying quite how]. It was noted that DCLG was currently consulting on the regulation of outdoor activities in public parks, but this was not though likely to lead to controls affecting land such as the downs. A member said that he led walks for health over the downs, and was concerned about the implications of greater regulation: officers replied that, as a structured and formal event, it ought to be subject to regulation. But others wanted to divert such activities away from the downs or to impose a larger fee. [Ed: although the proposals seemed orientated towards commercial activities, and it was recognised that a policy would be difficult to enforce, there was mention of regulating guided walks and post-natal classes, at least the former of which are done in exercise of the public rights of access. It is hard to see how it will be possible to discriminate between activities which are in pursuit of public rights, and those which are not, nor what action the conservators would take if anyone declined to seek formal approval, or was refused approval.] The proposal was rejected unanimously, with the chairman suggesting that it might be better to identify those activities which were detrimental. [Ed: but it was unclear how refusing a policy to regulate such events would ensure that they did not take place at all, nor how officers could encapsulate in a policy those activities which were intrinsically detrimental, without having the opportunity to examine proposed events in an application.]

Events on the downs: officers said that more applications were being received to hold events on the downs, and there was special attention to two Alzheimer’s Society Memory Walks which could attract 3,000–6,000 participants on Sundays in September 2017 and 2018. Officers compared with the Race for Life which was capped at 4,000 participants, organisers and spectators. The trainers' representative said that they would be unable to use the downs for training on those Sundays owing to the numbers on the downs and the additional traffic. Officers said that it would be open to stipulate that events should not be allowed on site before 0930. The trainers' representative said that this would accommodate training needs, but would affect local people's enjoyment of the downs. It would be possible to defer the proposal for 2018 until after this year's event had taken place. The head downskeeper said that litter collection from the Race for Life was improving, but was concerned about physical impact on the downs. Participants used the downs in advance of the event to practise, and officers agreed that this could not be controlled. A member pointed out that, if such events were allowed, it would be difficult to justify refusing the minor events considered earlier. The racecourse said that participants did not confine themselves to the surfaced routes, and strayed onto the grass and the gallops, and regretted the potential impact on the winter training areas at that time of year. Officers drew attention to the parallel between Race for Life in June, and the Alzheimer's Society Memory Walk in September: could the latter justifiably be refused if the former were permitted? A member suggested that there should be a cap on participant numbers, perhaps alternating between permissions for events in alternate years. The trainers' representative spoke out against several proposed running races, and there was a consensus against approving them all, but a majority to approve one subject to negotiation on the route. The racecourse said that the conservators should be cautious about engaging in applications on a case-by-case basis, particularly where new applications were on all fours with already approved applications, which raised questions about how they were distinguished. Officers noted that the policy allowed up to five B-class policies in the year, but only one had been approved so far this year. A member suggested that the policy should favour events connected with the borough, and the chairman agreed that the conservators could look at that in future: officers noted that although organisers were not necessarily local, those who participated often were. In the event, members were against approving just one Memory Walk, even with a reduced cap on numbers, and these were rejected.

Audit of signs on the downs: an electronic record of signage had been completed, but maintenance and repair would be demanding on resources. Steps would be taken to prioritise and plan future works.

Review of habitat management plan to include golf course: the plan had been revised to incorporate the golf course in a relatively independent but integral part of the overall plan.

The meeting closed at 19:25.

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Meeting, 18 January 2017

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 18 Jan, 2017 19:28:32

Apologies: Simon Dow, the trainers' representative, had tendered apologies for his absence.

Training Grounds Management Board: had met the previous day, but the report related to a meeting in November. The racecourse said the board had voiced concern about the reduced staffing situation on the downs. None of the items in the report was discussed (and therefore, nothing about the proposed access to the hatched area, but see the end of this report).

Hack sand track: officers said that the recorded delivery letter had not yet been sent to the Horse Race Levy Board — the chairman asked for this to be sent as a priority.

Head downskeeper's report: the head downskeeper was back on duty, but a dowskeeper was on long term sick leave, another leaving, and another on paternity leave. Support was being provided from the council's ranger service. The chairman asked about the recruitment process, and was told that it would probably take a couple of months. It was observed that substitutes for downskeepers needed to be confident and competent with horses. The racecourse said that the substitute was familiar with working on the downs. The trainers had reported concern about abuse of the training grounds in the afternoon, which was not being addressed owing to the absence of patrols. The head downskeeper said that he had asked staff to do more patrols, including repeat visits to key sites, but there remained many routine functions which could not be omitted. The racecourse explained that the trainers' concern was stimulated by a report on social media which invited use of the training facilities during the afternoon: officers thought it might be possible to target such postings. The head downskeeper said that barriers used to be placed across the all-weather tracks to prevent use by hack riders, but this was no longer done.

Fees for events: the conservators were asked to approve the revised fees and charges. They did, with negligible comment.

Budget 2017–18: a 2.3% increase in precept from the contributing bodies (the council, the racecourse and the trainers) was proposed. Approved.

Parking in front of Derby Arms: the report proposed to endorse, in principle, the use of the green between Derby Arms Road and Ashley Road for parking for events. The racecourse pointed out that the green had been used for contractor parking during the roofing works, but this had ceased since the works were complete. The chairman asked about the need to use the green: didn't the racecourse have a car park adjacent to the race track? The racecourse said it was a 'nicer experience' to park adjacent to the entrance. A member said that there was adequate parking elsewhere, such as on the grand stand apron. The open space was an important part of the Epsom character. Parking was accepted as a part of the racing calendar, but should not be everyday. The racecourse said it would be used as a genuine overflow for antique fairs and the like, because the hard standing was already full. The Tattenham enclosure was less well drained, and therefore less suitable. Another member agreed, saying parking was untidy. Was the public house concerned about the proposal? The chairman wondered whether pub visitors would also use the parking: the racecourse said the parking would be stewarded. Asked about frequency, the racecourse said 12 antiques fairs each year, and perhaps 6 to 10 other events, but no count had been taken, and the racecourse could not say with precision what frequency was sought in the approval. A member said that if the proposal regularised past use, it should be agreed if there was no material change in use. Officers confirmed that approval was sought only in principle, and there should be further consultation with hack riders and others; the conservators could impose conditions on use if they wished. The racecourse referred to use for Woodland Trust planting, and the chairman pointed out that such visitors were well equipped to use the Tattenham enclosure instead. A member said that consultation should envisage a limit on the number of events. It was agreed that there should be consultation with all members of the consultative committee, and with other members of the public who wanted to be involved. A vote on the recommendation was taken, with five in favour and one abstention. The abstention sought confirmation that the matter would return to the committee after consultation. The chairman would look closely at the wording of the consultation, and a draft would be cleared with the conservators.

Racing season: Racing would take place on:

  • Wednesday 26 April
  • Friday 2 June (Ladies’ Day)
  • Saturday 3 June (Derby Day)
  • Thursday 6 July (Evening)
  • Thursday 13 July (Evening)
  • Thursday 20 July (Evening)
  • Thursday 3 August (Evening)
  • Monday 28 August (Bank Holiday)
  • Tuesday 29 August
  • Thursday 14 September
  • Sunday 1 October

with evenings and Sunday meetings approved by the conservators.

In response to a question, the racecourse said there were fewer meetings than permitted for commercial reasons, as mid-week days had performed poorly. There was no wish to hold meetings on an autumn Monday afternoon, which was the sort of opportunity which remained open. Epsom racecourse was more demanding than at other racecourse, and it was more difficult to get horses to run. The racecourse did not want to run low quality races. The average number of runners in 2016 had risen to 8.9 from 8.2, following elimination of poor performing races.

The racecourse said it had fabricated gates to permit continued equestrian access (outside race days) to the Lonsdale enclosure west of the subway, to avoid the problem with removing fencing panels.

The recommendations were approved.

Signs on the downs: a sign audit had been done, and would be brought to the next meeting.

Hatched area: the racecourse said that the training grounds management board should be commended for drawing up proposals to open the hatched area at certain times.

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Meeting, 5 October 2016

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 05 Oct, 2016 18:01:36
Polytrack: a new walk in has been created for young horses to access the track at 5 furlongs.

Clear Height Stables: planning permission refused for demolition of stables, as they are thought to have a viable future in racing, but have not been properly marketed as such.

Hack sand track: there has been no response from the Horse Race Levy Board to a letter from the board disclaiming responsibility: this will be chased.

Head downskeeper's report: increase in recent anti-social behaviour incidents, with an attempt to break into the downskeepers' hut, and cars being driven over the downs. Two downskeepers are long-term sick, with support being provided from the ranger service. Concern about drawing down support from over-stretched ranger service, and whether this can continue to be provided: there are eight rangers to cover 23 parks. Providing ranger support will impose additional costs on the council.

Mid-year budget monitoring: the working balance continues to diminish, but there was no substantive comment on the in-year budget. The Treasurer had asked for guidance on setting the buget for 2017–18, proposing a 2.35% increase in precepts, which was agreed. [Ed: There was virtually no discussion about the merits of increasing the precept, and no indication of how or whether it could be accommodated in the council's own budget.]

Events: eight events had been proposed for approval, of which only next year's Race for Life was significant. One member welcomed the use of the downs, another repeated previously expressed concerns about 'grass being trodden down' and litter clearance, noting that the head downskeeper was ill and unable to comment. [Ed: has the member concerned seen the grass trodden down after Derby day?] The events were approved en bloc.

Ice-cream vending: this was not allowed on the downs under byelaws, unless with the consent of the conservators. A regular vendor had asked for permission to trade on the downs, and it was proposed to grant it, subject to not trading before midday, no chimes, and not on racedays. The van would be located in the Hyperion car park off the Old London Road roundabout, or at the milepost car park. The board wanted to impose conditions requiring the provision of litter facilities, and officers agreed to look at whether this could be done through borough licensing conditions.

Metal detecting: this year, the number of licences had been increased from 20 to 25, although only 23 had been purchased. It was agreed to continue to offer 25 licences each year.

Memorial policy: previously, no memorials had been permitted on the downs, but it was noted that the downs offered nowhere to sit down, and the policy should be reviewed. A paper was circulated to allow for this. It proposed to allow up to 12 rustic benches, bird boxes and planted trees. The demand was not thought to be great, and the price could be increased if demand proliferated. One member asked for benches to have a back, to cater for elderly people: this could be added in a natural form; it was also proposed to allow engraving into the wood (i.e. not a plaque): although there was some sympathy for these suggestions, they were rejected. It should be reviewed in one year. [Ed: there was no indication of where these memorials would be placed, and no doubt room can be found for benches, but one wonders what would be an appropriate site for tree planting, given that much effort is put into keeping the downs free of scrub, and trees grow naturally?]

Consultative committee: the minutes of the meeting last week (see my report here) had just arrived from the committee secretary, and the chairman offered to take board members through the highlights, although much had been covered already. Mention was made of the location of the gypsy site, and condition of the afternoon hack ride had been resolved on the tour. Comments were solicited, and a question was asked about dog control signage, and then about:

Parking in Derby Stables Road: a member asked whether parking controls would be put forward in the local committee, and the chairman said it would be quicker for a request to be put forward by the hack riders' representative rather than through the board. The member suggested she would favour such controls, and welcome a request to the local committee.

Outstanding references: no significant comments.

Dates of next meetings: Wednesday 18 January 2017 at 18.00 hours
Wednesday 19 April 2017 at 18.00 hours
Wednesday 14 June 2017 at 18.00 hours
Wednesday 4 October 2017 at 18.00 hours

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Meeting, 20 January 2016

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 21 Jan, 2016 07:39:31

Dog walking: the press release had been published today about the new ‘restrictions’ on dogs, attracting some press attention (see BBC News, illustrated with your blogger's own photograph!; the Surrey Comet/Epsom Guardian). Some coverage (neither of the two hyperlinked articles) had suggested the restrictions applied all day [Ed: which of course they do, in the presence of any horses, but as expected, this requirement was not mentioned once in discussion]. The council had made much of the private nature of the land [which is technically correct but so is a great deal of land subject to public access: the private character of the owner is immaterial, and the downs have been accessible to the citizens of Epsom since time immemorial.]. One member said there was a misconception that the downs were ‘open access’ [which it is]. The council said that additional ranger resource would be available next week. A comment had been made online about wearing fluorescent clothing, but the training grounds manager said this was worn by 99% of trainers’ staff. Staff would ask those with dogs not on leads to comply. The head downskeeper said there would be problems with some owners; owners for example thought that the rules did not apply in the woods. [Ed: and this is the problem with the conservators' approach — it imposes a blanket ban (during the morning) throughout the downs, even where no horses ever go. It's hard to enforce a rule when at times it just doesn't make sense.

Queen’s Stand crossing: the Training Grounds Management Board had approved a budget of £100 to improve signage in the vicinity of the crossing.

Tattenham Corner Road crossing for pedestrians: the highway authority had no money to fund improvements, but was willing to provide design and construction work.

Habitat management plan: work had been commissioned on the combined habitat management plan (i.e. incorporating the golf course).

Walton Road resurfacing: the highway authority had visited Walton Road and expressed ‘reasonable satisfaction’ with the resurfacing works and road humps.

Winter work programme: The winter work programme had enabled work to be done to cut back scrub at Riflebutts Alley, Langley Vale and Middle Hill. Work had also been done to ‘refurbish’ the hack ride and area marker posts.

Review of fees for events on downs: reviewed fees and potentially refundable charges were agreed for events on the downs, including a shift to a daily rate. Officers pointed out that the downs were not a formal events venue, and the conservators decided not to pursue specific annual increases in fees.

Metal detecting licences: the issue of licences has moved online, and availability will close once the ceiling of 20 licences has been reached. The fee will increase from £35 to £40 in 2017. Licences had been sought from all over the south-east. One member asked why the ceiling was apparently low: it was explained that the ceiling had originally been imposed because of the attractiveness of the downs for metal detecting. The licence allowed licencees to excavate (subject to rules about reinstatement). The head downskeeper said that enforcement was sometimes problematic, with licencees straying outside the designated area [the designated area being, in effect, the hack areas]. A vague desire to raise the ceiling to raise additional funds and enable greater activity emerged as a joint proposal to increase the number of licences by five but to amend the licence to permit revocation in the event of a breach of the rules.

Budget 2016−17: a 4% increase in the precept was agreed, in the following shares — Borough Council: £222,770; Epsom Downs Racecourse: £111,380; Epsom & Walton Downs Training Board: £37,130 — a total budget of £371,280.

Racing season and fencing works: the usual extensions to the term of fencing permitted under the 1984 Act were approved. There will be a music night only on 30 June this year. The racecourse observed that the Lonsdale enclosure should ensure a means of access is retained for walkers and horse riders in and out while it was in place.

Hack sand track: the acting clerk said that although an assurance had been given at the previous meeting that a report would be available for this meeting, none was available, and one was promised for the following meeting.

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Meeting, 7 October 2015

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 07 Oct, 2015 18:10:55
Training Grounds Management Board: is considering placing warning signs either side of the Queen's Stand equestrian crossing, as 'near-misses' continue: the board will discuss with Surrey Highways. Officers pointed out that the warning lights on Burgh Heath Road were now redundant, and could be better placed elsewhere.

Hatched area: signs had now been installed to visibly indicate that the hatched area was closed to hack riders.

Hack sand track: officers promised a definitive report at the next meeting, admitting that there was no update, and a report was overdue.

Downs House: the sale had been completed and it was in private ownership. There had been preliminary discussions about a planning application, with a view to restoring its use as a training establishment. He had been in contact with the TGMB.

Epsom Downs golf club unauthorised development: there was a question of retrospective consent, and enforcement action. A report would be made to the next meeting.

Tattenham Corner Road crossing: the crossing had been viewed by the consultative committee, with useful suggestions for improvement. Consequently, action had already been taken to reverse the 'running' rail, which opens up the space on the east side, and to tidy up the grass without compromising the width of the racecourse. Officers had asked Surrey Highways to visit to comment on safety.

Dogs: a report had been secured from an access consultant, who said that signage was an important part of dog management. A member regretted that the matter was being dealt with in an oral update. Discussion then moved to proposed new 'dogs on leads signs': further discussions had taken place on the new signs, and the consultative committee had commented on them. An amended notice was circulated: the new sign requires dogs to be kept on leads before noon, and states that dogs may be walked off leads after midday provided they are under proper control. It was said that much thought had gone into the wording [Ed: no-one was informed at this point that the requirement to keep dogs on leads in the morning was unenforceable.] Some minor comments were made on the wording. One member wanted a picture of a dog on a lead (or similar), and lamented the omission of the former wording of 'horses travelling at speed'. The consultant had recommended consistent, clear, bold signage as key to securing compliance, but had advised that an approach of requiring all dogs on leads at all times would not work. It was agreed to procure a further draft for approval by the clerk in rapid consultation with members. The racecourse said it was important that the board was clear about what they wanted to achieve, and what were the instructions to the downskeepers. It was confirmed that the downskeepers would receive conflict management training. Natural England's dog walking code (which commended keeping dogs on leads in the vicinity of livestock) was being promoted nationally. Research on dog control orders in another borough revealed that no enforcement had taken place in the past year. A member questioned how successful that borough had been in securing better behaviour [Ed: the reply rather obfuscated on that point]. Contact with another borough suggested that education was the better approach. A number of partners had said that enforcement is not the answer, but research showed that engagement was better. [Ed: indeed, but what will the board do about those who will not comply?] The racecourse illustrated two recent incidents, where the keepers simply didn't understand how their dogs were going to react. The existing byelaw only required 'proper control', and questioned whether this required a lead? Officers advised that Natural England's guidance would support such an interpretation.

Gypsy site management: a small group had considered comments from the board, consultative committee and local residents, but experience tended to suggest that ideas were not effective as hoped. Stronger fencing was seen as a challenge; cutting back scrub risked encouraging driving over the downs; employment of a security company would be costly and perhaps provoke confrontation. Once there were a large number of gypsies in the area, it was better for them to assemble in one area, as it was difficult to monitor the whole borough. There was respect for the Derby traditions, and gypsies did move on after the event. Further discussion would be had with the temporary site manager about discouraging driving on the downs. A member said it was the site manager's role to enforce against inappropriate use; the chair responded that it was not possible to change established views among those who were present for just a fortnight. Questions were asked about the role of the temporary site manager, and the remuneration: this would be revisited at the next meeting.

Live music: the Madness concert had attracted some management problems on the Hill during the evening: a member questioned whether this should be the responsibility of the racecourse? There were no facilities on the Hill for the concerts. The head downskeeper suggested future events might demand security support from the racecourse. The racecourse said there would be no live music evening next year owing to repairs to the Duchy Stand roof. There had been police presence on the Hill for the Madness concert, and the problems need not be overstated.

Winter work programme: the racecourse commended work done at the Derby start to improve visibility by controlling the treeline. The racecourse asked for a higher priority to clear gorse at the top of Middle Hill, and this was agreed. The board declined to do further work to clear undergrowth below the gypsy site.

Mid-year budget monitoring: there were no significant variance in the budget from plans. For 2016-17, it was planned to use £20k from working balances, and this was not sustainable, so an increase in the precept of 4% was proposed. A risk register had been circulated as an annexe [Ed: this says that "Clarity on responsibility for the Hack Sand Track has been clarified and [(edited at the meeting to read:) the Horse Race Levy Board] are responsible for the cost of repairs although repairs have not yet commenced and further action may be required]. Officers questioned the omission of event charges. The racecourse questioned a 4% increase: the treasurer responded that the present reliance on working balances could not be continued, and the increase addressed the current deficit in the budget but did not set a pattern for future years. There were also higher liabilities towards pension contributions. A member said that the increase was necessary if unpalatable. The chair said the increase was needed to address the increase in pension costs.

Golf course: extension of first tee and new paths: further details of the proposals had been provided, and they were approved.

Golf course: replacement winter tee proposal: there was lengthy discussion around the adoption of matting which was identical to a larger extent of the same matting put down in the practice area which is the possible subject of enforcement action. Some members expressed concern that approval of the winter tees would imply approval of the practice area development. They were assured that this proposal was separate, and all the works were subject to planning permission. The works were approved.

Events on the downs: eight applications were proposed for approval, all of which were repeating from previous years. There were no objections from the trainers, subject to the usual conditions. The events were agreed with no discussion [Ed: odd, compared with previous years' debates about the downs being allegedly oversubscribed]. Questions were however asked about the retention bonds, which were perhaps too low, but no conclusion to modify. A late application had been received from a cross-country group which had used the downs in the past: there was some discussion over whether to allow it, and a majority decided that it should not be admitted for this period, and then reversed itself and agreed to consider.

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Meeting, 15 April 2015

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 15 Apr, 2015 21:30:16

Jean Smith: was retiring as chairman and local authority member, this being her final meeting, and the vice-chairman presented a card and print of the downs in celebration of her departure.

The Training Grounds Management Board met on 24 February and decided that the hatched area was unfit for hack use, and also considered dog management issues (later on the agenda). The board had produced promotional material

Hack sand track: the head of legal and democratic services had arranged a meeting for the end of May.

Downs House: the sale had not yet been completed, although various issues had been sorted out, but there was a new question which required resolution.

Old London Road crossing of the Racecourse, drainage works: discussions had taken place with the highway authority, and it was hoped to undertake the works later this year, noting that a traffic regulation order would be needed. The highway authority had undertaken to clean out the existing drains in the vicinity before the Derby.

Bridleway 127: Old London Road: concern was expressed about the condition of the bridleway across the Hill, and it was noted that it was the responsibility of the highway authority. However, the discharge of flooding from the racecourse crossing was thought to make the problem worse.

Events on the downs: the list of four events seeking approval was described as ‘no surprises’; a further event, ‘pigeon liberation’ was described as very low impact first thing in the morning. It was questioned whether the organisers of the omni-terrier derby were aware that the trainers day might be moved this year, and would then not coincide. The list was approved. A decision was made to review the charges for 2016, and then annually, which would require a report to the summer meeting.

Downs habitat management plan: comments had been taken on board from the last meeting and the consultative committee meeting. Bird sightings had been noted too. The management recommendations would provide the driver for future actions. The plan would in due course absorb the golf course management plan.

Woodland Trust: the main planting was due to begin in winter 2015−16, but it was accepted that better contact was needed with the Trust’s planning, so that a co-ordinated approach was taken. The consultative committee was thanked for its helpful input, and the recommendations to adopt the plan were approved.

Epsom golf club proposed works: it had not been possible yet to obtain comments from the tree officer, and it was agreed that any decision would be subject to review by the chairman in the light of such comments. There was a discussion of the surfacing of the path proposed on the first hole, which was said to need to be man-made owing to the likelihood of natural materials being washed out. The golf club’s attention had been drawn to works with natural materials on Epsom Common (e.g. Fittleworth stone near the Stew Ponds). There was some concern about the uncertainty of what was proposed in terms of route and surfacing. There was an opportunity to revert in the summer with further details, as the works were not planned until the winter. The works were agreed in principle, but the board wished to see further details of the route and materials. The conservation officer was not concerned by the proposals.

Consultative committee: the committee’s comments on the Derby clean-up were noted by the racecourse as ‘point well made’. The chairman said that broken glass on the downs was not good for horses nor people. It was confirmed the Derby would be run at 16:30 as previously. The vice-chairman noted that minute 17.c had raised a question about signage of the hatched area, and the signs had been made, but not installed. A comment was made about the crossing of the 5 furlong extension: the vice-chairman thought there had been no deterioration in the crossing, but it was tricky to reconcile race use with pedestrian use. The vice-chairman said that the racecourse was unlikely to take the initiative, and it required another party to champion it; however, officers had been tasked to report, and would do so alongside the vice-chairman.

Dog control: the proposal was to ‘approve a twelve month trial of the request to keep dogs on a lead on Epsom & Walton Downs’, following a useful discussion in working group. Legislation was not thought to be the right route to follow at present, and it was preferred to make a ‘polite request’. It would require publicity, and should be sustained through the year. A before noon request was thought to be inappropriate given hack riders’ and others’ use, and therefore an all-day request was preferred [Ed: however, the report says that: ‘staff would…politely request that their dog(s) were kept on a lead, particularly before 12 noon when the race horses are using the open gallops”]. It was noted that the BHS had appropriate leaflets. A joint approach was needed with the racecourse, trainers and others. A similar approach had worked at Newmarket, although it was noted that circumstances were different. The campaign would be launched in the summer before the start of the school holidays. One member noted that it would be difficult for the staff to monitor and ‘enforce’ with no additional resources, and also observed that many dog walkers wanted space for big dogs to run. The study had looked at whether there could be a dog off leads zone, but it was thought to be too complicated, and wouldn’t meet visitors’ ambitions to be able to let dogs off the lead near where they parked or entered the downs. The proposal was agreed.

Model aircraft club: two proposals to allow use of multi-rotor craft and cameras on board craft were discussed. One member objected to the use of cameras, but did not explain her objection. Approved.

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Meeting, 21 January 2015

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 21 Jan, 2015 21:18:10

Training Grounds Management Board: the board had confirmed that the hatched area remained unfit for public use (Ed: this was the only item apparently thought to be worth reporting from the board’s meetings. The meetings must be very short indeed.)

Hack sand track: no further progress, with vague commitment to pursuing a meeting.

Downs House: flooding issue resolved with Thames Water accepting liability. Some delays in closing negotiations on lease.

Dog control: Joint action group met on 13 January with good attendance, and will meet again in February. Nothing will be resolved overnight, and resolution will demand staff resources. Circumstances of downs are different to those of other open spaces in borough. The trainers’ representative had attended the joint action group meeting and spoke in favour of using social media. He said that the downs did need a distinctive solution, and trainers’ staff were at risk. A local authority member feared that rigorous controls could divert dog walkers to other sensitive sites, and this called for borough wide measures.

Epsom Golf Club unauthorised development: alluded to, but not described in detail.

Pipe repair works near the Rubbing House: works are being undertaken in January by Thames Water, on the crossing near the Rubbing House: likely to conclude soon (Ed: but the crossing remains closed for now).

Barbecues: there had been a long debate at the previous meeting. The racecourse wished to revert to its previous policy on barbecues, which was not to encourage barbecues during events (Ed: but, reading between the lines, not to actively enforce against them).

Budget for 201516: the treasurer noted, in response to the chairman’s question, that the annual budget was drawing down £20,000 from reserves annually, and it would be necessary to increase precepts or reduce expenditure by 2016−17. Surprisingly, no-one thought fit to ask whether it would be wise to reduce expenditure sooner in anticipation, or even to challenge the above-inflation rise in the budget for the next year. A question was asked about the absence of a sum for insurance, and it was thought (requiring verification) that the cost was taken on by the council in its general policy and recharged in a separate line item for ‘insurance recharges’. An increase of 2% in budget was approved.

Code of conduct signs: there were now five signs in place.

Langley Vale Memorial Wood: the inaugural tree planting event took place in December, but there had been confusion about where to park for a local shuttle. Officers were asked to suggest that the Woodland Trust should provide marshals in future. The local authority had not yet approved the Trust’s traffic management plan.

Staff: the head downskeeper said that all staff had now received appropriate training in first aid and horse handling, as well as field skills.

Racing season: various extensions to the fencing season, enabling the racecourse to retain fencing between meetings, were approved without comment (Ed: the BHS takes the view that these extensions are unlawful, not being authorised by the local Act).

Revision of the Epsom and Walton Downs Habitat Management Plan: the plan itself had apparently been circulated late (Ed: not yet seen by me). The plan will be concluded after the next meeting, and placed on the website. There was no substantive discussion, apart from a question about bird boxes.

Review of Walton Road tarred surface: the racecourse thought this had been a complete success, with 95% preference for it. Signs had been improved at the bottom. Ends of railings had been taped to improve safety. There was no comment. (Ed: the racecourse tarred Walton Road, and it saw every thing that it had made, and, behold, it was very good.)

Old London Road crossing draining works: two meetings had come close to cancellation owing to waterlogging, and the racecourse sought approval for drainage works to the crossing and the necessary digging and fencing for that purpose. The racecourse's report said that the crossing was not public highway (Ed: this is incorrect: the crossing is a public highway, but is privately maintainable by the racecourse). The works will involve a covered drain across the north side of the crossing (continuous with the rails), a drain across the racecourse, and a discharge into a shallow soakaway with surface grill on the south-west side of the crossing. The head downskeeper, on the contrary, said that there were indeed gullies and soakaways, which were blocked but could be restored at much lower cost: however, he said that the highway authority had disclaimed responsibility. The trainers’ representative said that current drainage arrangements were inadequate to deal with intensive periods of rain. Officers said that Old London Road (i.e. the route inside Tattenham Corner) was adopted, except for the racecourse crossing, and they would discuss whether the existing gullies were in line for renovation. The clerk said that she would not wish to rely on the highway authority renovating gullies in time for the racing season. A council member said that the highway authority had taken on a new gully cleansing contractor, and her experience was that the response time was good. Another said that there was insufficient detail about the soakaway.

It was agreed to approve the works subject to clearance of further details by the chairman, clerk and head downskeeper, and officers would write to the highway authority.

Proposed tree works by Epsom Golf Club: the borough tree officer had now commented that there was no mention in the submission of the Habitat Management Plan, and no map. The creation of chalk grassland could be advantageous but lacked assurance of management. The tree officer proposed a site visit to assess the proposals, but said they should form part of a long term management plan. The Lower Mole Countryside Management Service said that works should better be carried out as part of regular management, rather than a big job once in a while. The Conservation Officer agreed that it would be helpful to take a more holistic approach to management of the land. It was agreed to delegate a decision to the chairman following the site visit.

Epsom Downs winter forest – proposal to sell Christmas trees: a rather bizarre proposal for selling Christmas trees on the downs. Unsurprisingly, the proposal was rejected, though only after a significant discussion.

Outstanding references: the committee clerk’s carefully compiled list was briefly noted and dismissed.

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Meeting, 13 October 2014

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 13 Oct, 2014 20:49:03

TGMB: met on 3 October. Approval was given for refurbishment of the fibre sand track, which was due to begin on 3 November.

Dog control: the clerk said that the legal advice commissioned by the TGMB (and annexed to the report on 'matters arising') was not something she could entirely agree with, nor did it focus on softer elements such as owner behaviour. [Ed: oddly enough, this was precisely what I had said in an email copied to the clerk the previous day.] Officers had not been able to dedicate time to the issue, and legislation was changing. The neighbourhood inspector was keen to enforce dog control issues and was aware of the detail. Legal advice was needed from the council legal team.

Code of conduct signs: the final sign was awaiting delivery, before installation. One of the original signs (by the Rubbing House) has been removed to rectify problems with the production.

Hack sand track: it was reported that the consultative group had disputed the Levy Board’s view that the sand track was under the same management responsibility as the horse walks, and the racecourse manager agreed.

Downs House: the legal process was expected to continue.

Review of habitat management plan: a final document would be presented in January.

Metal detecting: a retention of the present annual fee for detectorists at £35 was agreed.

Mid-year budget monitoring: the mid-year position was slightly over-budget, owing to an £11k pension contribution and maintenance of the toilet block. Next year, the proposal was for a 2% increase in contributions, which would generate an additional £7k, and £16½k would be used from reserves. As reserves continued to decline, the board would need to examine how to stem the losses. The chairman asked about car park repairs at £1k, but was told this was ‘nothing’. A statement in the notes about responsibility for repair of the hack sand track was corrected. No discussion took place on the proposed precept increase (which was a guideline for the treasurer’s budgeting for next year, and not a resolution).

Chafer grubs: an infestation on the downs was causing concern, and chemical control was both costly and environmentally challenging; the racecourse track however is treated chemically, at a cost of around £5k. The grub causes damage to the turf, and prefers fine cut grass. The infestation was reported as the worst ever. Crows feed on the grubs, causing the grass to be laid bare. Investigations continue into what measures can be taken at reasonable cost.

Proposed events on the downs: a number of events had sought approval, including the Race for Life in 2015. One member rehearsed concerns about impact of events on the downs, and resources used to manage the downs. It was not clear whether other sites could host the Race for Life. The event had become an annual institution, regardless of effect. But the trainers’ representative said that this year’s event had been managed very well, and had not caused disruption. Officers said that another Race for Life took place in Guildford. The organiser was very flexible, including a set-up before the trainers’ occupation of the downs (and a down-time during that occupation). The chairman said that refusal threatened a backlash. The racecourse pointed out [Ed: for the first time in my recollection] that a few weeks earlier, the downs hosted 100,000 visitors, and contrasted that with 5,000 for the Race.

Downs tour: concrete deposited on the edge of the golf course, spotted on the board’s downs tour, had not yet been cleared. The unauthorised development of the practice area has been addressed in writing, and the golf course has suggested they were not aware of a problem. The golf course will also be told not to allow fencing to be erected by sponsors on event days.

Speed hump on Walton Road: this had been proposed for approval, retrospectively, to reduce cycle speeds on the descent of Six Mile Hill. Officers said that the speed hump needed clear marking and advance warning. The need for a hump was agreed, and the TGMB was asked to liaise with officers on the signage. The racecourse pointed out that the solution would need to be suitable for all downs users, but then went on to question whether additional humps were needed further up the hill.

Barbecues on the downs: the racecourse was struggling to regulate barbecues at the moment; the racecourse said the proposal was a reversion to earlier practice, with resources to enforce the rule. There would be a dedicated team to deal with the issue. Officers said it was impossible to enforce a prohibition on race days, and there was concern that the public would assume that the derogation was available on other days, such as music nights. One member, supported by the chairman, insisted that there should be no derogation for barbecues on race days. The clerk said no encouragement should be given to other forms of fire, but the byelaws allowed only for consent to be given to light fires. In the event, approval was given by a majority of 4:2 (the only two council members present) to implement on a trial basis, using raised barbecues.

Minutes of the consultative committee: the chairman asked if members had asked to read the minutes (circulated late), and there were no comments. [Ed: much rustling of papers followed] The chairman observed how much the board appreciated the work of the consultative committee, then moved on. [Ed: the consultative committee would have much preferred that at least something of its deliberations — anything really — were aired before the board, than that tributes were paid to its work by a board which simply ignores it. Though to be fair, the consultative committee's comments on the maintenance responsibility for the horse walks were reported earlier in the agenda.]

Works on the golf course: the works were to be tabled at the next meeting, as they required further consultation.

Dates of next meetings: 21 January, 15 April, 17 June and 7 October 2015.

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Meeting, 17 June 2014

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 17 Jun, 2014 21:12:53

Chairman: today’s was the first meeting of the new local government year, following the elections, which called for the board to elect a chairman and vice-chairman. As usual, Jean Smith was the only nominee for chairman, and Andrew Chairman was appointed vice-chairman.

TGMB/dog control: last met on 15 May and discussed dog control. Trainers reported daily mishaps, and the TGMB thought that the current byelaw was insufficient and required amendment to keep dogs on leads. It was described as absurd that dogs were allowed to run loose while horses were in training. The chairman said that a new byelaw (requiring dogs to be on leads before noon) would be costly and lengthy, and it was necessary to be sure that the new byelaw would be effective. Enforcement would be difficult. Trainers were asked to log all incidents to raise understanding of the problem, with a report to the next meeting. The chairman asked if the TGMB would share the costs of seeking a new byelaw or dog control order? Other members were supportive of tighter controls. The clerk said that there were insufficient resources to enforce. Publicity would be used to raise awareness, but breaches were often committed by people from elsewhere. The council lacked resources to follow up breaches. The chairman asked whether there was support for a ban on dogs before noon, but the question was not addressed by the board. The trainers’ representative said that more effective control was a prerequisite to the continuing status of the downs as a leading training ground; there was also concern about dogs ‘kept’ on an extendable lead. The vice-chairman noted that the existing byelaw already required a dog to remain under proper control and avoid disturbing any animal, and that the question was one of enforcement rather than drafting; however, the clerk thought that a more clearly worded byelaw or a dog control order would be easier to prosecute (but said she was willing to prosecute it if resources were provided). Officers were asked to review options again, including the possibility of employing an enforcement officer. Officers thought that dog control needed to be reviewed in the context of the borough as a whole.

Code of conduct signs: officers reported that two new signs were being made and due to be supplied shortly. Likely candidates were bottom of Ebbisham Lane and Langley Vale, but the board wasn't specifically asked to endorse these locations.

Hack sand track: in the light of no response from the levy board, a meeting had resolved that the vice-chairman should write again, but no reply had been received.

Downs House: Bidwells had reverted to previously interested bidders and discussions were taking place with two candidates.

Land at rear of Rosebery Road: it was confirmed that a neighbouring householder had cleared some scrub on the downs, and had offered to pay for replanting. There was a brief discussion as to whether the matter should be taken further [Ed: without any sense of irony that such action might be contemplated here, but was apparently untenable in relation to dog control]. It was agreed to accept the offer of replanting. [Ed: presumably the other householders who haven't admitted anything won't pay anything. Though quite why these householders are expected to tolerate the growth of ever denser scrub, where there used to be none, so depriving them of their views of the downs, is entirely beyond me.]

Tarred surface on Walton Road: planning permission had been granted for an extension, and works would begin in a few weeks.

Final accounts: John, the former borough treasurer familiar at previous years' discussion of the accounts, had retired. There was approximately a £20k excess of expenditure over income, attributed to the replacement downskeepers’ hut. A member asked about the outturn expenditure on noticeboards compared with budget: this was explained as owing to the code of conduct signs, but with a counterbalancing receipt through s.106 funds. A question about equipment and facility hire was thought to be attributable to the replacement temporary cabin while the downskeepers’ hut was rebuilt. A question was asked about the Tattenham Corner Road public conveniences (which were costing £20k per annum). The recommendations for disposal of the accounts were accepted. Discussion moved on to pension contributions, where increased contributions were sought. These increases could be spread over a longer period if the council accepted responsibility for the board as the parent body: a decision on this would be taken in the next few weeks by the council’s strategy and resources committee.

Downskeepers’ hut: an opening event was to be planned (later agreed to be combined with the downs tour).

Derby: concern was noted that the downskeepers had had to clear up in place of the contractors. The head downskeeper reported this year as ‘very bad’, and said there was still glass on the downs. Officers reported that the events manager was aware of the problem and wanted to avoid the problems in future years. The racecourse had provided a report — build-up went roughly to schedule, with mitigating measures to reduce impact on the trainers. Ladies’ Day saw growth in grandstand subscription. Saturday had started with poor mid-morning weather, which had affected numbers on the Hill. Ten arrests had been made in line with previous years. The racecourse recognised that the waste management and litter clearance was ‘seriously disappointing’ and these issues were under investigation. A member asked what financial restitution would take place — the racecourse said that it would look at this. The chairman said that the arrangements in the Jockey Club room on Derby Day to which she had been invited were ‘magnificent’. A member commented on the poor behaviour experienced in the Blue Riband restaurant during Ladies’ Day. [Ed: indeed, much of the discussion about the Derby focused on the experiences of various members in accepting the hospitality kindly provided by the racecourse. Presumably the members all consider such hospitality compatible with their responsibility for regulating the racecourse’s management of the downs? Or perhaps they make a corresponding payment to charity?]

Downs tour: a board members’ downs tour was scheduled for 4 August at 14:30.

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