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, 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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Conservators' meeting, 19 April 2012

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 19 Apr, 2012 19:51:48
Training Grounds Management Board: a meeting was held at the end of March. Training numbers are showing a decline of around 20%, in common with other training grounds. The hatched area was discussed in the context of creating scrapes (though we were not told what conclusions were reached).

Beacon event on the downs: the Derby Arms had agreed to the use of toilet facilities which would, taken with others, provide sufficient to meet requirements. A decision was taken, after much officer engagement in the background, to agree to the event.

Incident on the downs: a letter from Mr Tozer, and an article from last Saturday’s Telegraph, Menacing dogs put an end to my rides, had been circulated. Since no-one else had seen either document, it was hard to discern what was referred to while at the meeting, but it emerged that it was about the long-standing dog attacks on horses. A renewed but brief discussion took place about the viability of requiring dogs to be kept on leads, but it was observed that the board had been here before. The clerk referred to a recently reported episode in Horton, where a horse had bolted after an attack, and been put down after collision with a car. The trainers’ representative was concerned that owners didn’t get a false picture of the risk to horses in training, and suggested stronger and clearer advice to dog walkers at the two key entry points to the downs; the trainers would be willing to sponsor such signs. A code of conduct was needed for downs users. There would be a report to the June meeting on dogs. It was decided not to respond to the article in the Telegraph.

John Akehurst’s funeral: the chairman attended on behalf of the board, and reported a huge turnout.

Chairman’s report: noted without comment.

Hack sand track: the promised ‘report to follow’ did not, owing to other pressures on officers. An independent risk assessment was being carried out to help assess requirements for maintenance and repair. Meanwhile, the beachcomber remained in regular use. The head downskeeper said he might need to close the track owing to flooding from recent rain, and sought approval to do so. There was some discussion about the requirement in the Act to provide an alternative, although the clerk said that ‘health and safety’ could trump this requirement. The head downskeeper was asked to liaise with the hack riders’ representative.

Epsom and Walton Downs management plan: the downs strategy was published in 2006, but was now considered dated and in need of a review. It was proposed to prepare a management plan, involving stakeholders, and an associated action plan, and consider where funding might be found for the costs of implementation. The plan and action plan would link to the existing habitat management plan, but stand apart. It was suggested that engagement should be sought from the neighbouring borough of Reigate and Banstead and district of Mole Valley, as well as their councils. Progression would be dependent on resources, including officers’ time. Recommendations to take forward were approved.

Tattenham Straight update: the racecourse explained that the freeholder of the hatched area continued to withhold consent for spoil extraction, and the racecourse wanted to identify an alternative source: the project would otherwise be further delayed. Such a source would need to be verified as appropriate and clean. The board was asked to agree an alternative source subject to certification. The avoidance of routing lorries across the downs was noted, and described by the chairman as a ‘huge concern’. Plans to create scrapes on the hatched area was approved with murmurs of enthusiasm. The chairman questioned whether this was intended to be subject to agreement from all relevant stakeholders, as described in the report, and said this couldn’t be realised: it wouldn’t happen. It was questioned whether the Trelissick Trust was such a stakeholder, and whether it needed to approve. The ecological adviser said he was keen to install a ‘couple of scrapes’: asked whether creating new scrapes was in the habitat management plan, he thought so. The chairman proposed to remove the requirement for agreement from ‘all relevant stakeholders’ and this was agreed without comment. With this amendment, the recommendations were all agreed, with confirmation of the release of funding for the downskeepers’ hut. (Ed: some uncertainty remained about whether the Trelissick Trust would need to consent to the scrapes, and if so, whether the scrapes should be located outside its freehold ownership.)

Events: four events were presented for approval: Round the Borough Walk, Racing Pigeon Liberation (tiny), Tadworth 10 (10 mile athletic race), and Rotary Club of Banstead Sponsored Walk. Officers were grilled by the trainers’ representative about the Rotary Club walk, but gave assurances that the sponsors were experienced and had held the event for many years. It was suggested that the need for patrolling incurred additional costs, but it was concluded that there would be no additional staff on duty. All the events were approved. It was noted that the Cancer Research Race for Life had offered a contribution of £200 towards reinstatement costs. Advice about charging for events would be brought to a subsequent meeting.

Derby arrangements: it was agreed to authorise the chairman and clerk to approve the caravan site fee.

Close: this being the final meeting of the year, thanks were offered to the clerk and Tim Richardson, the committee clerk.

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Meeting, 19 January 2012

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 20 Jan, 2012 07:48:02
Training Grounds Management Board: the TGMB met on 5 December. The two all-weather track refurbishment projects had been delivered and were working well. Numbers of horses in training are expected to drop at Epsom (and throughout the industry), perhaps by one-fifth, following a modest reduction in late 2011. Funding of the hack sand track was discussed (to be picked up later in the agenda). On the grass gallops below the polytrack, Walton Road was reported to be causing problems because of the eroded paths created by users, and it was proposed to improve the hard base to enable woodchips or polytrack to be put down on top; the longer term aim was to improve the whole route, but in the short term, to address the top part.

Dog control: no progress to report, but expectation of a report at the June meeting.

Cycling signs: these had now been placed on the horse margin adjacent to Langley Vale Road (see here).

Hack Sand Track: Refurbishment works were included in the list of capital projects to be considered for approval by the Borough Council's Leisure Committee at its meeting of 18 January, but the committee was not happy about the justification for the scheme, and particularly the legal requirements and whether there were lower cost solutions: the committee had proposed consideration by council in February, but this timetable was unlikely to be met. It was reported that the racecourse is prepared to consider funding over two years; the TGMB is concerned at its share and it too wishes to see a lower cost solution. Alternative surfacing would also be considered. Meanwhile, a machine which would assist in the clearance of stones has been identified.

High winds: The racecourse declined to comment on the damage to the roof.

Race for life: A proposal for this event to take place on 24 June 2012 was circulated just before the meeting. Where the route does not follow surfaced tracks, it almost entirely lies upon hack areas: and indeed, various marquees will be erected on the platform adjacent to the home straight. Comment was passed on setting-up taking place from 0600, but runners would not arrive until about 1100. The racecourse said that public relations needed careful handling, and there was an opportunity to invite a contribution to making good damage. The head downskeeper said that the main impact was clearance of rubbish, but if the weather were wet, then the impact would be much greater. Questions were asked about whether the event could be suspended at short notice if conditions were poor, or whether the route could be altered to remain on hard tracks. It was suggested that there should be a cap on numbers, a charge, or acceptance only in alternate years. A pound-a-head charge was proposed, although officers advised that the organisers might not be able to absorb the charge at this stage in arrangements, and that it might be more appropriate to warn that the charge would be imposed in future years. The organisers already put a sum aside (perhaps £1k) to deal with clean-up. So it was agreed to approve the proposal on these terms, with a voluntary contribution sought from the organisers.

Potential for charging for events on the downs: It was agreed, virtually without debate, that the TGMB and racecourse work together to produce a more detailed strategy for charging for category B, C and D events on the downs. [Ed: It's arguable that the racecourse may be able to charge for events, but neither the board of conservators nor the council can: the Act confers no powers on the board to charge (except for admission to car parks), and the council has no power to charge for the giving of its consent to events (and otherwise has no interest which could possibly enable it to levy charges). In the paper submitted to the board, the legal advice begins by proposing that the racecourse can indeed charge, but later becomes somewhat more vague about who exactly can or will charge: whereas the annexe makes clear that it envisages that either the board or the council will charge! It looks like the legal advice has fudged the issue, so it will be interesting to see what emerges in a proposal to the next meeting.]

Budget for 2013-14: The budget was introduced by the treasurer, and as usual, approved without debate except for the usual can’t-see-the-wood-for-the-trees questions about budgeting for electricity.

Diamond jubilee beacon: some new logistical issues had been identified since the report was published, concerning parking and other matters, which had yet to be resolved, and it could not yet be said that the event was viable, particularly as the council could meet any additional costs. One councillor suggested that it would be better to have alcohol sold on site by local businesses, rather than it being brought onto site by visitors, although the chairman thought that retailers would lack the control which they exercised over their own premises. The beacon was described as built from pallets, but the precise location was not described. It was accepted that the beacon itself would go ahead, but that the community event was insufficiently well-defined. A special meeting on 1 March would be scheduled if a sufficient proposition was available.

Tattenham Straight works: the works were approved at the Leisure committee the previous day.

Race Meetings 2012: there would be 12 race days in 2012, as none was feasible during Olympic fortnight, and the first three Thursdays were likely to be music nights, with the possibility of an operatic night. It was agreed to delegate approval of applications from the racecourse to the clerk.

Dates of meetings: 19 April, 28 June, 18 October.


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Meeting, 5 December 2011

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 06 Dec, 2011 22:14:52
This meeting had been called (the second such meeting) to approve the racecourse plans for works to level and raise the Tattenham Straight enclosure — and more relevantly, to extract part of the fill required for the works from an area of land at the foot of Six Mile Hill. See here for the agenda, the ecological assessment and design and access statement including map showing routes for transport of the fill, and report by Nick Owen.

Receipt was confirmed of the Epsom Equestrian forum email.

The ecological appraisal was put forward first for discussion. The chairman identified the pages of the report, but no-one had any comments to make. The board went on to Nick Owen’s report: again, no comments. Then the design and access statement appended to the ecological appraisal: none again. And the soil contamination report (not available on the website): none. (Goodness knows if anybody had read them: you’d think that someone would have at least one question on 29 pages of technical appraisal? Ed)

A question was asked about the measurement of vehicle movements. The racecourse said they would use reputable contractors who would comply with requirements, although it wasn’t quite clear what requirements. It was suggested that the downskeepers should not have to enforce adherence to requirements: there should be confidence that the requirements would be met regardless. Signs would be needed to explain what was going on and the reasons for it.

The chairman said that the proposals should improve the downs — certainly, biodiversity should be improved.

There was then no debate on approving the works: this seemed to be a foregone conclusion. A discussion took place on whether there should be a debate about the payment to be made to the board for works to the downkeepers’ hut, and it was agreed that this was not relevant. (I think what was really meant was that they wanted to discuss that aspect behind closed doors: see below.)

It was noted that the council’s leisure committee would need to approve the demolition of the Lonsdale Standard. (The 1984 Act requires the council's approval to all the works to the Tattenham Straight enclosure.)

The chairman imposed further conditions: works subject to the approval of the owners of the land, and compliance with all conditions imposed.

The meeting then went into closed session to discuss (presumably) the contribution to the repair of the downskeepers' hut.

Editorial: So after about 20 minutes' discussion (hardly debate) the works had been approved. No questions about the impact (beneficial or otherwise) on the extraction site at Six Mile Hill, or the compatibility of the fill sources from Ashtead Park, or the impact of around 250 20 tonne HGV movements around the downs, or the effect of the extraction on equestrian use of the hatched area, or indeed on any other downs users. Remember: this is the same board which last October refused permission for an event for 165 runners because of impact on the downs. Presumably, one runner is perceived to have a greater impact than one 20 tonne lorry carting away the very fabric of the downs.

There are three questions which we will ask the board:

1/ Does the board consider the use of the hatched area to extract fill will render it permanently inaccessible to hack riders? If so, does the board consider this outcome lawful in respect of land designated for the purposes of the Act as a part-time hack area? If so, please say what advice was tendered to the board in this respect, and how the consequences were made clear to the board?

2/ Does the board agree that the use of the hard track at the foot of Six Mile Hill for 113 HGV movements (in each direction) is capable of constituting a public nuisance in a designated public bridleway? Moreover, given that movements could alternatively take place along Walton Road (north across Six Mile Hill), a public road, or south along Ebbisham Lane and via other local roads, the use of a public bridleway for this purpose cannot be justified.

3/ Access to the hatched area will require HGVs to cross the sand track in the vicinity of Walton Road. What powers will the board exercise to restrict use of the sand track and the adjacent linear hack area to enable a suitable crossing to be put in place? Does the board intend to grant a specific consent for that undefined purpose? Will the crossing be removed at the close of business each day (as it must be removed from the Mac track), or will it be left in place across the sand track while excavation continues: if so, for how long?

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