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, 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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Meeting, 22 April 2014

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 23 Apr, 2014 08:22:41

Langley Vale First World War Centenary Wood: a presentation was given by the Woodland Trust. The Trust is a member of the Imperial War Museum’s First World War centenary partnership. Langley Vale Wood (an interim name) is the largest proposed woodland creation site, and its purchase has been completed. It’s 250 hectares in area. and will accommodate 200,000 trees, but 40% of the site will remain unplanted, and many of those trees will be planted to restore existing hedgerows or create new green lanes. Views will be retained and accessibility will be retained. Open space will be managed as wild flower meadows on chalk grassland habitat, using grazing on large parts of the site. Poppies will be a dominant theme, which will call for some arable cultivation. There will be a designated memorial area consistent with the natural features, although the design has not yet been done. The site will be open to the public, with several kilometres of hard surfaced paths, horse and cycle paths. Some paths will be mown, and waymarked routes will be established. There will be interpretative features and volunteering opportunities. The trust wants to work with schools and community groups, e.g. on tree planting. A tidy-up will begin now, removing pheasant pens, litter, fencing. Some wildflower seeds will be sown this summer, with initial planting in the autumn on a community planting day. Site infrastructure will be installed in 2015–16, and the memorial area established in 2016. The farm will continue to be managed on an agricultural basis for the next 12 months. The site is technically open to the public, but access is not being promoted.

The project cost is £9 million, with a total cost for all four sites of £20 million. The local appeal had already reached half way (£50,000), and discussions were underway with local businesses. Local funding would leverage ten times as much national support.

Asked about existing woodland, the Trust said there was extensive hazel coppice on the site, and this would be managed (though not necessarily all of it, owing to resource constraints). The Trust expected parking to be accommodated off Headley Road, where sight lines for traffic were good: this conclusion had been influenced by discussions with Surrey as highway authority. There would be no full-time staff on site, save for a possible visitor centre as regards which decisions were yet to be made. There could be a strong volunteering presence. Visitor numbers were expected to decline after the centenary period.

Walton Road: planning permission was awaited for surfacing works on Langley Vale Road.

Langley Vale residents: concern had been expressed by residents about trainers’ practices. A meeting had taken place, and there had been a desire on the part of local residents for more information [Ed: this wasn’t explained further], and a reminder to trainers to discourage distractions (e.g. smoking) by riders.

Code of conduct signs: two additional signs had been ordered, after which further consultation will take place on siting (one is likely near Langley Vale village).

Hack sand track: the clerk apologised that matters had not been moved forward, and had scheduled a meeting on 15 May with the relevant parties to seek a solution.

Equestrian crossing opposite the entrance to the Queen’s Stand: one option was to recycle the existing signs on Burgh Heath Road, where they now had little use as the trainers did not use the road, although it was said that the signs could still confer a benefit on a livery stable. However, it was suggested that the signs would not be appropriate to the Ashley Road site.[Ed: Indeed: the signs warn of the presence of riders on the road, with manually controlled alternate flashing yellow lights, which were presumably operated manually by whichever yard was intended to benefit from them. They are completely inappropriate to the crossing on Ashley Road, so there’s not the slightest chance of their being resited.]

Downs House: the marketing agents, Bidwells, have revisited the original bids and invited new expressions of interest. A report was expected to a special meeting of Strategy and Resources committee in May to seek authority on how to proceed.

Review of Epsom Downs Habitat Management Plan: will be reviewed by a borough council officer.

Signposting of the Round the Borough Hike and Bike route: it was agreed to mark the route on its circuit of the downs. It was stated that the route followed only public rights of way [Ed: which is incorrect].

Downskeepers’ hut: this had now been commissioned. It was asked whether there was any identification of the hut’s role, and it was confirmed that details had been painted on the structure. The Lower Mole Countryside Project would consider whether more permanent signage could be provided. A formal opening would be proposed. Apparently, the handbasin is too small for the burly downskeepers, so the chairman wants it replaced.

Events on the downs: six events had been submitted for approval, and were approved [Ed: with hardly a peep from the board, save that one member said she’d refuse permission for the lot, but took it no further. This included the Race for Life: no doubt there will be much hand wringing later this year about next year’s Race, but it will still end up being approved].

Constitution of consultative committee: the clerk noted that a working group was formed in 2012, and had subsequently met with the clerk and chairman, before proposals were brought to the consultative committee in March this year. It was noted that the promoters of the 1984 Bill had given a commitment to establish such a committee to include (apart from the statutory interests, only) representatives of horse riders for the purposes of consultation on the future management of the rides, tracks and paths for horse riding.

Angela Clifford gave a short presentation on the purpose of the revision of the constitution, including to review the membership of the committee.

Proposal A, on whether the committee supports or advises the board, and proposal B, which extended the committee’s remit to consider appearance and biodiversity, were thrown open for discussion. The vice chairman said that there was no need to review the objects in the current constitution. Another member agreed, saying that appearance and biodiversity were too prescriptive. Proposal B was therefore rejected, and proposal A appeared to fall without a word being said either way.

Proposal C, on extending membership to local residents’ associations, was discussed. One member proposed to sustain the present position. The chairman said that EDMAC had made a strong case to be included [Ed: the Epsom Downs Model Aircraft Club had written to the board objecting to its exclusion from membership of the consultative committee], but the clerk boldly said she had concerns about including one group without consideration of others [Ed: this appeared to overlook that the report had presented various groups’ membership, including EDMAC’s, as a fait accompli, but this seemed to be a step too far for the board]. It was agreed to make no change to membership. Proposal D (consequential changes to those invited to attend) was therefore rejected as unnecessary. However, this was later clarified to include, among those invited to attend, the additional bodies originally lined up for membership.

The chairman said that any issues identified by the consultative committee meetings were brought up to the board efficiently and effectively, and nothing it said was ignored. There would therefore be no disadvantage to the committee by rejecting changes.

Proposal G, to codify practice for personal representation of specific matters identified by the committee at the next board meeting, was endorsed by one member, and the chairman said this would be sensible [Ed: this was odd, since the chairman had been adamant at the consultative committee meeting that it was entirely unnecessary]. This was agreed.

Proposal F, on requisition of special meetings, the chairman said that she could use discretion to bring matters before the committee. The clerk expressed concern about additional meetings and the resource necessary. A member said that the status quo was best. Proposal F therefore was rejected.

It was also decided to retain the quorum at three members.

One member said, belatedly, that she wanted to thank the committee for its work on the constitution.

[Ed: so there we are: eighteen months of admittedly desultory analysis by the working group, with virtually nothing to show for it. Pity that no-one said they wanted to ‘maintain the status quo’ at the beginning of the exercise.]

Minutes of the consultative committee: these had been circulated, but there were no comments. [Ed: which sums it up really: the chairman couldn’t see any need to mention anything at all worth mentioning arising from the last consultative committee meeting.]

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Meeting, 17 October 2013

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 17 Oct, 2013 20:40:14

TGMB: had met on Tuesday 15 October, and the only item to report was confirmation that there was no change in its view on use of the hatched area.

Saddling boxes: the permanent saddling boxes secured planning consent in September, and construction work will commence on 28 October, due to be complete by February.

Equestrian crossing opposite the entrance to Queen’s Stand: there had been some refurbishment work, but the width of the crossing was judged insufficient. There might be some s.106 funding available for works.

Code of conduct signs: the new signs should be delivered on 28 October, but will then need to be installed.

Walton Road: racecourse still working with Surrey Highways, but some issues need to be addressed internally by the racecourse.

Drainage works on roundabouts: there were delays to the works at Buckles Gap owing to concluding the legal process involving the golf club. A geotechnical investigation had been concluded at the Grand Stand Road roundabout, and works estimated to cost £56,000 were likely to be carried out this year. However, conservators’ consent would be required to works on the adjacent downs: it was agreed to assign authority to the clerk, chairman and ward councillor.

Downs House: sale was progressing well.

Tour of Britain cycle race: was said to be successful, with much prior work with the racecourse and others. Sportives (events taking place on the highway) were becoming more commonplace, but did not need permission. Up to 2–3,000 people could be involved, but there was no regulation, and not necessarily a governing sports body in control. [Ed: there appeared to have been a recent event which had attracted up to 2,000 cyclists and had caused ill feeling in local communities as well as among downs users.] The public assumed that the events were formally sanctioned. It was proposed to establish a working party to look at events which were using the facilities (particularly car parks) or highways, although it was accepted that they could not necessarily be halted: this proposal was agreed. Surrey was consulting on a new event strategy, which might involve lobbying to introduce laws to regulate sportives. One member suggested closing the car parks (this would require advance awareness of the event). Another event was expected in November.

Hack sand track: a meeting had been requested with the Horse Racing Levy Board to assess responsibility for maintenance and reinstatement, but it had been slow to respond.

Mid-year budget monitoring report: current year expenditure of £371,000 was compared to a budget of £343,000, but the excess was mainly accounted for by the contribution to the replacement of the downskeepers’ hut. There had been some additional expenditure on maintenance of the toilet block. A question was asked about the rise in the electricity bill by £100. It was confirmed the budget of £6,000 for the Derby gypsy site did not include proposals for toilet provision lower down the agenda. The board was asked to identify the main issues that should be addressed in the budget report in January 2014: there weren’t any. It was agreed that an assumption of a precept increase of 2% should be adopted for the purposes of planning next year’s budget.

Head downskeeper’s report: meetings with the hack riders and trainers were reported and welcomed. A proposal to acquire a defibrillator was approved.

Conflicts: it was reported that, “The Head Downskeeper and the Downs Manager have successfully dealt with couple of recent incidents between user groups, which if not resolved, had the potential to cause serious health & safety concerns.” One related to a traveller driving a pony and trap at speed across the downs, affecting a hack rider’s horse: the person responsible had given an undertaking not to repeat, although there had been a further sighting. The other related to a jogger who had inconvenienced the trainers on several occasions: the police had spoken to him, although it was said that he hadn’t broken any byelaws. The trainers’ representative said that incidents were on the rise because of the board’s inability to enforce byelaws: he thought that the jogger had breached the byelaws, because he had interfered with the trainers’ operations. He also commented that the trainers were not ‘user groups’: under the Act, he took the view that no member of the public could interfere with the training of racehorses. The chairman said that trainers had priority on the downs. The deputy clerk said that the terms of the Act would be reviewed to see how it applied to these situations. One member made a [Ed: predictable] call for more signage. Officers reported difficulty in enforcing byelaws on the public rights of way across the downs, quite apart from the general difficulty of obtaining names and addresses.

Winter work programme: a programme of work was circulated in hard copy.

New downskeepers’ hut: work continued but had been delayed. Estimated completion before Christmas, but certainly well overdue.

Proposed events on the downs: proposals for four events were considered: Downs Young Athletes Cross Country League (3 November, 1 December 2013, 23 February and 9 March 2014); Sunbeam MCC Pioneer Run (13 April 2014); North Cheam Baptist Church Easter Service (20 April 2014); Cancer Research UK Race For Life (29 June 2014). One member launched into a broadside against the Race for Life, summarising that ‘enough’s enough’. The trainers’ representative thought that the downs had reached saturation point, and had the same concerns about the Race for Life as the Tour of Britain cycling event. It was not just about the impact of the event itself, but its effect in drawing people back to the downs subsequently; the downs should be primarily for local people. The deputy clerk said that the proposal could be rejected if it did not comply with the downs’ policy, but that if the policy was faulty, that should be reviewed; the Race for Life was a category D event which should be considered on merits. Officers said that the Race for Life organisers claimed that many local people took part in the event. There was a similar event in Guildford. The racecourse said that the golf club was content if the course was not used for parking. The same member noted that the events were all being staged on Sunday mornings, and there should be a willingness to demand later times to avoid conflict with trainers: the trainers’ representative supported a later start, after 10:00. He asked for a review of the policy to address timing issues: a loose horse could easily lead to accidents. The first three events were approved, but with the first not to set up before 10:00. Discussion continued on the Race for Life. Officers explained that car parking was stewarded and could be arranged to avoid impact on the golf club. The organisers were keen to mitigate and minimise disruption, and were sensitive to trainers’ needs. The chairman commented that the participants were not necessarily so sensitive. The member asked how much damage was caused? The racecourse said that damage would occur, and be more severe if wet, but admitted that 120,000 people would congregate on the downs for the Derby earlier in the month [Ed: refreshing honesty not previously admitted in this context]. The trainers’ representative said that changing the hours did not help: it was a closed day for the trainers, and local people could not get around. They were supportive of the cause, but not the event. The member proposed a motion to refuse the event on grounds of disturbance to trainers and local people: however, no other members supported her, although the trainers’ representative said he sympathised with her view. [Ed: although the member was apparently isolated in a vote, it must be added that no-one actively argued to the contrary: so it was far from clear what the rest of the board thought.] The event was therefore approved. It was suggested that a brief should be prepared which the organisers could send to participants: officers agreed to discuss with the organisers.

Downs tour notes: it was noted that the TGMB didn’t currently have the funds to extend the poly track as planned.

Consultative committee: the chairman asked if the board had any issues they wished to raise on the minutes of the consultative committee. A meeting had taken place on the constitution, which would be referred back to the consultative committee before returning to the board. The chairman hoped the board would agree that they valued the work of the consultative committee even though not many comments were made: there were some murmurs of agreement, though no-one said anything further.

Metal detecting fees and charges: the board agree to the increased charge of £35 for an annual metal detecting licence. The deputy chairman asked whether the present 20 licences should be increased in number. There was demand for at least 30 licences. Officers explained that the number had been capped because of latent demand. One member suggested 50 licences. It was agreed to raise the number of licences to 35 [Ed: but without any discussion of impact on other downs users] with a review next year.

Temporary toilet facilities on the Gypsy Site during the Derby period: a proposal was advanced for this purpose, but with concern about costs if the equipment was returned damaged (an estimate of £7,500 was given). The chairman asked whether the racecourse should pay for the facilities, but it was observed that the board approved the existence of the gypsy site each year. The proposal was declined, but it was agreed that those using the site should be required to bring their own facilities [Ed: it wasn’t clear how this requirement would be enforced: will arriving gypsy families be challenged to bring out their portable conveniences for inspection?].

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Meeting, 19 June 2013

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 21 Jun, 2013 08:45:41

Arrived half an hour late owing to having absent-mindedly caught the wrong train at Vauxhall, ending up catching a 418 from Surbiton. Didn't seem to miss much: I'm told that the board was informed that discussions continue between the racecourse and the highways authority on Walton Road, and no news on the hack sand track.

Final accounts: recommendations on the accounts approved without discussion.

Downskeeper’s hut: this had been damaged during set-up for the Derby, but it was hoped to keep the hut going until replacement in September.

Issues arising from Derby meeting: the chairman said the downs looked ‘remarkably clean’ the next day. Another member commented on the report on broken glass. The contractor, CSP, had been slow to respond initially on this, but once problems had been identified, had got on with the job. The Derby meeting had been quieter than in 2012 (the racecourse had announced 120,000), although paid attendances were about the same. Part of the Lonsdale area had been unusable following rain earlier in the week. One member said the appearance of the marquees on the Tattenham Straight was aesthetically improved following the flattening works.

Saddling boxes: the racecourse had sought approval for permanent saddling boxes north of the Queen’s Stand (even if granted, 1984 Act consent and planning permission would still be needed from the Council). At present, the racecourse erects temporary boxes for the racing season, which are near the end of their life, and unsightly, and not favoured by trainers. Work would be done in time for the 2014 season if permission were given. The new boxes would be no taller than the present temporary boxes. Rules required that one-quarter of the boxes should be equipped with doors. A member described the finish facing the road as ‘horrible’, and asked about the render finish, suggesting that it should be natural timber. The chairman asked whether anyone was supporting that member, but it appeared not. The chairman said that the details of the finish could be discussed later, although it seemed that she had the planning committee in mind. The racecourse agreed to review the question of the finish, and the proposal was recommended to the council under the 1984 Act.

Round the Borough walk: permission had been sought for this event on the downs to take place on 7 September, which was agreed. A late application had been made for a sponsored treasure hunt on behalf of the Riding for the Disabled Association: the RDA had been unaware of the new procedures. This was also agreed.

And that was it. Finished at around 1900: except that the meeting continued with the public excluded (I almost said 'press and public', but it's a long time since the press can have attended these meetings) to discuss encroachments along Rosebery Road in Langley Vale.

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Meeting, 18 April 2013

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 18 Apr, 2013 21:49:33

Downs House: the clerk said the council’s strategy and resources committee had appointed Bidwells as the agent to market the house, on the basis of freehold or leasehold disposal, but with a strong preference for retention for horse racing. Marketing will be launched at the Derby festival.

Walton Road: no arrangements had yet been decided, and two options were being reviewed by the racecourse.

Flooding at roundabouts: the county council was currently preparing a legal agreement for the works to alleviate flooding at the roundabout at Buckles Gap. Investigation into a remedial design for flooding at the grandstand roundabout was expected to be concluded soon, but uncertainty as to whether the work could be funded in the present financial year.

Tour of Britain cycle race: the downs will host the start of the race on 21 September, notwithstanding the objections of the trainers. A working group will be established to help organise the event, and to co-ordinate its promotion.

Training Grounds Management Board: met on 18 February, attended by Nick Healey from the county council to discuss highways issues including the equestrian traffic lights on Ashley Road.

Management of the downs: meetings had taken place involving all the downs managers, including the golf course and the council officers, and more effective arrangements had been agreed to be incorporated into the management plan.

Downskeepers’ hut: a revised proposal, for rebuilding the downskeepers’ hut, at less cost than the earlier proposal for a portable cabin, was approved, at a cost of £86,000, of which £30,000 would be met from the precept on the council and £21,000 from the conservators’ funds. It was hoped to begin construction after the Derby, in time for the winter. The Treasurer proposed that there should be a legal agreement, as the building would be on racecourse land. [Regrettably, the new building, although slightly larger than the present, will have no improved facilities for visitor reception.]

Events: five events were approved for the year ahead: Welsh South East Combine Pigeon Liberation (18 May, 17 and 24 August 2013, The Omni Terrier Derby (25 August 2013), Epsom College Cross Country Event (21 November 2013), Tadworth Athletic Club ‘Tadworth 10’ (5 January 2014), Rotary Club of Banstead Sponsored Walk (11 May 2014). One member expressed concern about the ‘destruction of our downs’ promoted by events involving up to 700 participants [Ed: unaccountably, this member had nothing to say about the decision to host the Tour of Britain cycle race, which will attract thousands. And equally unaccountably, the conservators are for the first time attempting to extract £900 in fees from the various event organisers, without any legal basis for charging.] Questions were asked about the Race for Life (30 June 2013), which was not before the board. It was explained that the event had already been authorised, but the organisers were aware of reservations regarding approval for 2014.

Chairman’s report: the chairman introduced the report for the 2012–13 year. Mention was also made of the unveiling of the memorial on the downs, earlier in the day, to Emily Davison.

Racing season: agreement was given to “for consent under the Byelaws to bring forward the start of the fencing period for the Upper Tattenham Enclosure for the Derby festival to 7 May 2013.” The racecourse wanted to start as early as possible. Access will continue to be allowed to these areas: in particular, an entrance and exit to the Lonsdale enclosure. The racecourse also wanted to keep the fencing around the Lonsdale enclosure throughout the summer. This was on the basis that fencing on the downs is unlawful under the byelaws, unless authorised under the 1984 Act. Consent would save the racecourse time and money. It was explained that the Lonsdale fencing could be done in a weekend, the Upper Tattenham enclosure fencing in around four to five days. One member pointed out that the fencing was ugly, and continuously present during the summer: agreement each year meant it became the norm. Another questioned whether the extension for the Upper Tattenham enclosure was required because of the works: it wasn’t. Officers said that the fencing did not cause any operational difficulties, but that the Lonsdale enclosure was a hack area, and the opening should be sufficient to allow access to hack riders. A member proposed that one of the extensions for the Upper Tattenham enclosure should be pared back to allow a further unenclosed weekend, so that fencing would be allowed from the 13 May vice 7 May. [Ed: Unexpected engagement from council members on the applications. But consent under the byelaws sidesteps the constraint that the 1984 Act doesn’t provide for fencing of the Upper Tattenham Enclosure to be brought forward or for the Lonsdale Enclosure to be retained: the fact that any question of an offence under the byelaws has been swept aside does not render lawful the fencing itself: it still lacks authority under the Act, which is exceptionally prescriptive as to what the racecourse may or may not do.]

Proposed fencing on 3rd tee of golf course: there was some discussion over whether a low fence was necessary, and a hedge would not be a sufficient alternative. There was concern over the lack of discipline among course members. The golf course’s proposal was described as a crude solution, and the club was asked to consider alternatives, which might include temporary fencing to protect a young hedge.

Epsom and Walton Downs Consultative Committee: the minutes of the meeting of the consultative committee held on 18 March 2013 were considered. [Ed: the board took precisely 25 seconds to consider the minutes.]

Code of conduct signs: a near final draft of the signs was displayed to the board, and it was proposed to place an order once the byelaws had been approved. It was approved with a minor adjustment, but the chairman discouraged further discussion, as it had already been considered a number of times.

Hack sand track: this item was taken after the exclusion of the public.

Date of downs tour: 30 July at 1430.

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Meeting, 24 January 2013

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 24 Jan, 2013 21:56:17

Opening stuff: Simon Durrant, the new general manager of the racecourse, had been appointed as the racecourse representative [Ed: as usual, the board went through the charade of approving his appointment, but the appointment is a matter for the racecourse, not the board].

Flattening works: the works had been delayed owing to bad weather, and the contractors would not be complete until March. The fencing would therefore remain in place. [Ed: No-one mentioned an extension of authorisation for the fencing.]

Cycling byelaw: awaited confirmation by DCLG, with consequential delay to code of conduct notice boards.

Downs House: the clerk said that the council had sought agents to advise it on a disposal, and an internal meeting would take place next week to make a selection of an agent for that purpose.

TGMB: had met in mid-December, and had confirmed its position on the hatched area [Ed: board members fell off their chairs at this point].

Downskeepers’ hut: a report had been circulated with options for refurbishment, or replacement with a portable building. Two conservators criticised the cost of demolition, and three the appearance of the proposed portable building, calling for a new build replacement, but didn’t have any suggestions for how it might be funded (apart from ‘sponsorship’). The council’s leisure committee had limited the council’s contribution to £30k. It was agreed to look at alternatives to refurbishment at lower cost and better appearance, and if necessary to revert to the leisure committee. [Ed: the board has been here before, and concluded it couldn’t afford a new building. Will it be any different next time, in the present economic climate? The racecourse representative said as much. No doubt the downskeepers will despair that a decision has now been postponed at least another three months, while the rain seeps in and the heating is failing.]

Prince’s Stand: The racecourse said that the purpose of the paper was merely to set out the broad intention, seeking a decision in principle. The chairman said crossly that she thought a decision should be deferred, as there was insufficient information to inform a decision, and this was agreed. [Ed: I'm not clear however what the use of the Prince's Stand has got to do with the board, as opposed to the council's planning committee. The racecourse plays an odd game of keeping the board sweet on matters where the board has no statutory role — and then skirting the requirement of the 1984 Act.]

Budget 201314: the board was invited to approve expenditure levels for the next financial year. The council treasurer (who doubles up as the treasurer to the conservators) introduced the report. Several questions about staff followed, but the recommendations were agreed without any substantive debate.

Walton Road: the consultative committee had authorised us to appear before the board to make representations on carriage driving on Walton Road. We said that Walton Road was and is the shortest route between Epsom and Walton-on-the-Hill. It's a public road, just like any other. Some older residents of the borough remember driving this way. But since 1978, it has been subject to a TRO. The TRO restricts, on non-race days, motor vehicular traffic between the Rubbing House and the bottom of Ebbisham Lane. The TRO does not restrict any other traffic: cyclists, horse riders or horse drawn vehicles. Recreational carriage drivers, in common with other recreational users, are looking for quiet, preferably traffic free, routes in the countryside suitable for driving horse drawn vehicles. Walton Road and Ebbisham Lane are ideal for this purpose, particularly as there is room to park and turn at the Rubbing House. But there are obstructions along the course of Walton Road which do restrict those users, and particular users of horse drawn vehicles. Those obstructions are:

  • locked barrier at the Ebbisham Lane car park
  • the barrier at the Mac Track crossing
  • projecting barriers in Warren Woodland
  • the barrier at the fibresand crossing
  • the post at the crossing of the back of the racecourse
  • the locked barrier below the Rubbing House

Any of these obstructions, when they are in place, prevent lawful use of Walton Road, as a public highway, by horse drawn vehicles. They should not be there: it is a criminal offence to obstruct the highway. The board must ask itself: why are they there? Were they placed there by another body, in which case, did the board unlawfully give its approval? Or did the board's own staff put them there, in which case, it has itself acted unlawfully? Either way, the board should recognise the illegality of what has been done, and address it. If the board choses to take no action, it condones illegality on land which the board itself controls. The board cannot chose to condemn the illegal actions of others — whether dog walkers who do not control their dogs in the vicinity of horses in training, hack riders who ride on the training areas, or residents who extent their garden fence onto the downs — but overlook illegality under its own responsibility. If it does, it sends a clear signal to downs users — that the board does not consider itself bound by the very rules it seeks to enforce.

We therefore called on the board to take steps to remove these obstructions, while ensuring that the restriction of motor vehicular traffic is maintained. If neither the board, nor the highway authority, takes action, we said we will apply to have Walton Road recorded on the definitive map and statement as a byway open to all traffic (BOAT). This will enable us to serve notice on the highway authority under section 130A of the Highways Act 1980, to remove the obstructions. We said that the board might also consider that recording Walton Road as a BOAT would increase cyclists' use of Walton Road across Six Mile Hill training area, and attract use by so called 'off road' motor cyclists, which could be difficult to deter.

For the first time in many years, the board had secured attendance by the highways authority, whose representative said he approached the issue primarily as an engineering issue, and he was not a legal expert. He said that his comments should not be taken as legal advice, but from an experienced highways officer. He said the BHS view was in his opinion correct. That the way was in disrepair did not change its status. There was no evidence of the TRO on site, and it was therefore unenforceable. It was possible to enforce a TRO with barriers [Ed: i.e. barriers erected by the highways authority: not by anyone else], but where the TRO did not apply universally, then the exemptions should be catered for within whatever arrangements were put in place. If the TRO did not apply to horse drawn vehicles, then the BHS view was correct, and the obstructions should be removed. This raised the question why the obstructions had been installed: did whoever installed them not fully appreciate the legal position? There was a tension in this context, as there were competing ambitions for the route. The highways representative had noted the priority given by the board to the racehorse training community, and he accepted that improving access for other users would not sit comfortably with the board’s own ambitions [Ed: sharp officer, this chap, but not exactly consistent with the board's duties.]. One option was to modify or amend the TRO; another was to achieve a stopping-up. But the latter was likely to be contended, and it would be difficult to satisfy the legal conditions. He asked what outcome was sought, and how to achieve it? From the information available, the highway authority could be put under pressure to discover who had placed the obstructions, and how they could be removed.

The council’s legal director was asked to respond, and said that it was not the board who had placed the barriers: it was a matter for the highway authority to resolve with the landowner, or whoever had placed the obstructions. The racecourse expressed interest in a device [Ed: a Kent carriage gap.] which could exclude motor vehicles, but admit horse drawn carriages. The highways representative said that any exemption for access in the TRO could pose difficulties in terms of those who might wish to access the downs for recreation in their car. It was also difficult to exclude motor vehicles while admitting horse drawn carriages, because motor cyclists particularly could get round any restrictions [Ed: which of course, they can now, though surprisingly don't, at least to my knowledge].

The chairman said that it was the highways authority’s responsibility to address the matter. The signage should be dealt with; the authority should then respond with proposals which were acceptable to all concerned, with a report to the board. The highway representative said [Ed: presumably embarrassed at the proposal that the highways authority should prepare a report for anyone other than a committee of the county council, still less for a body which had acquiesced in the obstructions] that it was a matter between the authority and the landowner or other person responsible for the obstruction: the board did not have a role.

The council's legal director asked about the width of Walton Road: the answer was that there was no defined width, but highway boundary plans might show sufficient information to provide an answer. He added that it was clear that there were key stakeholders, and the authority would not wish to proceed without consulting stakeholders, including the board and the BHS. However, it might not be able to satisfy all aspirations. The board was nonetheless invited to say what it wanted to achieve, and to indicate a sense of priority.

The clerk was now asked to respond, who said that the board was guided by the Act, but reiterated that the board did not have any specific role in the matter. Her advice was that the board should not seek, and could not seek, to enforce. The chairman noted that the conservators had not received any complaints about carriage driving, and therefore saw no urgency [Ed: untrue, as my own records show representations to the clerk as long ago as 2004.]. The trainers’ representative said that the current obstructions contributed to the safety of downs users, and their immediate withdrawal would give great cause for concern.

The highways representative said that it was not the authority’s intention to ‘throw the book’ at anyone, and noted that no representations had been received. The matter could be taken sensitively and carefully. Local opinion would be canvassed. No estimate could be given of the timescale. Priorities would be determined by the county council local committee. It was difficult to know how people would respond to consultation.

The racecourse asked about the process to extend the TRO to include horse drawn vehicles. The highways representative said approval would be needed from the local committee. An amendment would be advertised for representations, which would then be considered by the local committee. The committee could nonetheless overrule objections, as there was unlikely to be a statutory impediment. The chairman now said that this seemed a sensible way forward [Ed: I thought the board had said it had no role in the matter?], and the matter should be brought before the local committee. The highways representative asked the board to confirm whether horse drawn vehicles should be included in the prohibition: which the chairman did. The board was asked to write to the local committee to that effect, which would enable it to determine priorities and officers to consult. The chairman alternatively thought that the racecourse could ask for action. The racecourse representative [Ed: having been tossed the poisoned chalice, and with one eye to the local publicity] was hesitant to commit to taking this course.

Asked about recording Walton Road as a BOAT, the highways representative said he could not comment.

The clerk said the matter had been kicked around for some while. She agreed it appeared to be legally obstructed, but driving in contravention of the TRO was unenforceable owing to poor signage. An approach to the local committee around the exclusion of horse drawn vehicles would ‘flush out’ the issues. The trainers’ representative said he had no issues with horse drawn carriages on the downs, and appeared to say he had seen many such carriages on the downs [Ed: this may have been an ironic allusion to the gypsy buggies which tended to turn up on past Horseman's Sundays], but the impact of opening the road without restrictions was that there would be dire health and safety implications. The board would then be obliged to provide fencing and protection. The barriers were there to prevent people from getting hurt. [Ed: it wasn't entirely clear, but he appeared to mean that, if the barriers either side of the training gallops were withdrawn to facilitate passage by carriages, there would be a greater risk of accidents between horses in training and downs users.]

The highways representative said that, if there was a demand for a facility for horse drawn carriages, could that be provided without impinging on the racecourse? The trainers’ representative felt unable to comment.

It was concluded that the racecourse would decide whether to make an approach to the local committee. There appeared to be no specific decision that the board would act if the racecourse did not.

Surface of Walton Road: it was reported that the surface south of the Rubbing House had been attended to repair potholes, but remained in a poor state. The highways representative agreed to make a further inspection.

Equestrian crossing at Queen’s Stand: there had been a number of episodes of the red lights being jumped. Some limited policing had had no effect [Ed: it turned out this involved a police vehicle parked at the lights. How pointless!]. The highways representative said that the Government had put in place strict criteria to install new cameras, and although these had been relaxed, they had been retained by the highway authority. The worst sites were prioritised by casualties, and there had been insufficient in Ashley Road to justify a camera. The situation was difficult: drivers tended to push at the boundaries when it suited them, and were more likely to chance it when there was no-one obviously on the crossing. The position was particularly acute at the equestrian crossings, because they could be activated well in advance of the horses' arrival at the crossing. The trainers’ representative said he crossed many times a day, and endorsed what had been said. A speed limit and traffic calming would help. The incidents happened almost entirely during the morning rush hour, during term time. The highways representative suggested that it might help if someone on foot was standing at the crossing showing an intention to use it, but the trainers’ representative thought he could not provide anyone for that purpose. It was unlikely that the appropriate speed would be assessed as lower than the present limit of 40mph, and if the limit were nonetheless lowered, it might require significant road works to support enforcement. However, the cabinet member had discretion to depart from policy. In short, it seemed, nothing could be done.

Flooding on roundabout outside the grand stand: the highways representative said that the soakaways had been cleared out, but this had made little difference. If the soakaways were defective, then a remedy could be very costly. It was now practice to fully check the connections on a visit. Instructions had been given to remove sludge from the soakaway, but steps would be taken to ensure that the instructions had been complied with by the contractor.

Tour of Britain cycle race: the start would take place on a Saturday. The trainers’ representative said it would cause chaos and they would not be able to train on that day. The downs were already under pressure. The racecourse supported those concerns. It was suggested that the event might be lost from Epsom if it could not be hosted on the downs. [Ed: after some discussion, with a couple of council board members expressing their own concern, it looked like the proposal would be thrown out, especially when the chairman resolved to take a vote, but then some other council board members spoke up in favour (actually, I think one adopted a position entirely contrary to what she had previously said), supporting the event on economic grounds.] A vote was taken on the recommendations: 6 in favour and 3 against.

Report from consultative committee: although we had expressed concern in the consultative committee on the minutes of the previous board, which had been admitted to be wrong in the consultative committee, nothing was said by the chairman, and the items were ‘brought to the attention’ of the board in one minute, with no discussion. [Ed: a perfect illustration of how the consultative committee is utterly ineffective in influencing the board.]

Pathways on golf course: new paths were approved on the 8th and 16th holes.

We were then asked to leave for a confidential agenda item on the hack sand track.

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Meeting, 18 October 2012

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 18 Oct, 2012 20:13:10
This was one of the longest agenda for a board meeting which I can recall, with a tally of 19 items, but the board cantered through them in only an hour and a quarter. Rupert Trevelyan had been appointed regional director for the Surrey group of racecourse, so his future role as representative of the racecourse was uncertain.

Walton Road carriage driving: there was a new highways manager Nick Healey. Surrey said they were happy with the current arrangements, and had no plans to make any changes, but they were happy to consider any representations, and to attend the next meeting of the conservators to discuss highways. [We didn’t ask whether the council was ‘happy with the current arrangements’: we asked why carriage drivers were illegally excluded from using Walton Road. ‘Happiness’ is not a relevant consideration. No answer to that. Ed] The council was also thought to have tackled some pot-holes at the Rubbing House, but there was concern that conditions demanded further work.

Epsom Downs Racecourse Flattening Works: the Lonsdale stand had been demolished. Chalk was being supplied from a quarry in Kent.

Downskeepers’ Hut: a capital bid was being considered and would be brought to the board in January.

Epsom Golf Course Habitat Management Plan management responsibilities: there had been a productive meeting with the golf course and a realistic schedule of responsibilities had been drawn up.

Tarred surface of Walton Road: the TGMB apologised for the ‘honest mistake’ which meant that no permission had been obtained for the surfacing works on Six Mile Hill, but such permission was now sought. The current arrangements were considered the safest ever. Any extension further downhill was in abeyance until the board’s views had been established, and would require planning permission: no decision had been taken by the TGMB. The chairman, reading from a prepared 'slap wrists' statement, said that the board must be asked for approval for any fencing outside that allowed by the Act, noting that the chairman and clerk were prepared to act quickly where necessary, as they had done in respect of the Londsdale enclosure. Unauthorised fencing meant the board looked ineffectual and sapped confidence in it. A discussion on the merits of the surfacing followed. One member described it as effective, particularly as users were keeping to the surfaced road. The surfacing was therefore approved. Similarly, permission was given for the temporary retention of chestnut palings on Middle Hill, to “protect the vulnerable verges of the Middle Hill Winter Gallops, used from November onwards,”, which had also been erected without permission.

Mid year budget report: there was a proposal for a two per cent increase in the 2013–14 budget, roughly in line with inflation, and the basis on which the estimates had been prepared. There were the usual handful of questions on detail, and the planned budget for next year was agreed without comment.

Letter to Properties which back on to the Downs: this appeared to relate to properties in the Langley Vale area. The board had written to neighbouring owners about inappropriate maintenance or encroachment onto the downs. The head downskeeper took the view that the warnings had been effective. [This was described as unnecessary maintenance of the downs but since these areas aren’t maintained by the conservators, it seems a bit harsh to act against adjoining landowners. Better to have a lawn on which one can walk or ride, than impenetrable scrub. Particularly if your garden is the other side of the fence. Ed]

Hack sand track: it hadn’t been possible to conclude the report and this was therefore deferred to a future meeting. [The chairman wasn’t saying which meeting. Ed]

Adoption of cycling byelaw: the board was asked to (and did) formally adopt the byelaw confirmed by the Secretary of State. [This rather ignored that the byelaw had already been confirmed, and has effect whether the board likes it or not. As it happens, the board did like it. Just as well. Ed]

Event applications: all the applications related to events which had previously taken place on the downs. There were no objections from the racecourse or trainers. There were four events outstanding for approval. Only the Race for Life attracted comment: the number of participants would be capped at 5,000. There would be no charge for the event, since it had come in before the commencement of the charging arrangements. It was suggested that the board should at least seek to recover its costs in facilitating the event. However, the downskeeper said the event organisers were now more effective in organising and clearing up, and impact was therefore lower. It was decided to seek to estimate the expenses incurred, and seek a contribution from the organisers through the reinstatement bond.

Downs house: the future of the racing yard, owned by the council but recently vacated by the lessee (following court action), was included on the agenda for information (the yard is not part of the regulated area of the downs).

Consultative committee tour of downs: no comments made.

Constitution of consultative committee (paper): the committee was tasked to identify any amendments required to the constitution at its next meeting. One board member thought that any group representing downs users should be capable of being represented in the committee, and none should be excluded. It was clarified that the second council member of the committee did not need to be a board member.

Flooding of Buckles Gap roundabout: it was explained that Surrey highways had prioritised the flooding at this roundabout (it was acknowledged that there were issues at the Grand Stand roundabout too). The works at Buckles Gap would be funded as a capital item. These were approved.

Code of conduct entrance signs (paper): there was discussion about the design of the signage units, revolving around several options presented in a board paper, but bizarrely, no discussion of what would actually appear on the signs themselves. The ‘Stanley Park’ design was preferred, with three units to be installed. [Perhaps because the content of the specimen sign in the board paper looks rather nice. Ed] It was however noted that the byelaws would be set out on the back.

Dates of next meetings: 24 January, 18 April, 20 June, 17 October, all in 2013 and at 18.00 hours.

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The confidential minute

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 04 Jun, 2012 11:06:48
Back in December 2011, I wrote about the conservators' meeting on 5 December, which considered the racecourse's proposal for consent to works on the Tattenham Straight, and its proposal to extract fill material from the hatched area on Six Mile Hill. I said, "The meeting then went into closed session to discuss (presumably) the contribution to the repair of the downskeepers' hut."

The minute of that session was, like the closed session itself, designated 'confidential'. On 18 December, I asked for disclosure of the confidential minute under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. After some prevarication, I received the minute on 1 June.

It seems that, even as the meeting purported to grant consent for extraction of the fill material, the meeting was in closed session advised that the racecourse was unlikely to be able to obtain the consent of the freeholder to the extraction (the freehold of Six Mile Hill is vested in The Trelissick Trust as successor to the late Stanley Wootton, who granted a long lease to what is now the racecourse). It seems that the racecourse had offered to pay for the necessary consent, but no response had been received.

The racecourse proposed to source fill from elsewhere. And here's the stunning bit: "The Council-appointed Conservators expressed concern at this possibility, in particular as it would not provide the ecological benefit that would be achieved through use of the ‘hatched area’ as a source of material. The Chairman emphasised the importance of the ecological benefits to be gained, and requested the Racecourse to continue its efforts to come to an agreement with the freeholder."

When this proposal first surfaced (cynically revealed a few days after the meeting of the consultative committee on 31 October 2011, where not a word was said by the racecourse or the chairman — even though plans were sufficiently well advanced for local exhibitions the following week), we assumed that it was driven by the racecourse. What's now clear from this minute is that the proposal to use specifically the hatched area for a source of fill material was viscerally supported by the chairman. When that seemed likely to fall through, the chairman pressed the racecourse to find a way to proceed with it nevertheless. Indeed, one wonders whether the chairman originated the idea in the first place? Whatever, the minute is hardly suggestive of a board of conservators reluctantly going along with the racecourse's plans as the least worst option for extraction: quite the reverse — "The Council-appointed Conservators expressed concern" that the racecourse might source the fill from elsewhere!

Needless to say, if the conservators were serious about delivering ecological benefits, they could do that anywhere on the downs at any time. They don't need to render a hack area permanently unfit for use to do that. Yet the board meetings rarely focus on conservation of the downs, despite the board's statutory purpose§ of conserving the downs (apart from a spurious concern about the impact of harmless athletics and charity events — see this story for one resident's view on that — without a word ever said on the matter of the incomparably greater impact of race days), and even the proposed extraction of fill from the hatched area, ostensibly done with conservation in mind, would have seen 250 x 20 tonne HGV movements trundling along the downs' bridleways.

So it's hard to see this proposal as about conservation: it's really about its impact on the hatched area, and the board's aspiration to wreck, once and for all, any possible future use of the hatched area for hack riding. Thanks, unexpectedly and perhaps unwittingly, to The Trelissick Trust, the proposal has gone into abeyance.

[§ Section 10 of the Epsom and Walton Downs Regulation Act 1984 sets out the primary duty of the board as follows: "It shall be the duty of the Conservators to preserve the Downs so far as possible in their natural state of beauty".]

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