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, 26 September 2016

Consultative CommitteePosted by Hugh Craddock 28 Sep, 2016 20:56:12

Cllr Liz Frost was in the chair of this biannual meeting of the consultative committee.

Hack sand track: officers gave an oral update, to the effect that there was nothing further to report. Officers acting on behalf of the board of conservators had written to the Horse Race Levy Board (HRLB) to confirm that board did not take responsibility for maintenance, but there had been no reply. We asked what was the plan of action? Officers said it was not the board’s responsibility to maintain, and that it was for the HRLB to maintain, as it was on its land, and it had given an undertaking to Parliament to maintain it. It was hoped that there could be a discussion leading to an amicable discussion. The chairman asked that the letter be sent again with delivery confirmed. There was no evidence that responsibility had ever been assigned from the HRLB to the board. We pointed out that there was no incentive on the HRLB to act, and the HRLB needed to feel that it was bound to respond: the board should seek to progress the obligation. We asked what action the board would take to bring the risks of use of the sand track to the attention of hack riders: officers responded that they intended to take no action to warn or protect riders, and officers thought that they could best avoid liability by doing nothing. [Ed: This seems an odd position to take in these supposedly litigious times, which might best be described as 'burying your head in the sand'.]

Hatched area: the Training Grounds Management Board was said to be re-assessing what could be done with respect to access to the hatched area (a committee had been formed for that purpose). [Ed: The conclusions are awaited with, er, interest.]

Anti-social behaviour: this had been reported at the Mile Post car park, including recklessly dangerous driving, which was a challenge to the downskeepers to address. Police are said to be supportive to tackle the behaviour. Consideration is being given to installing dashboard cameras in downskeepers’ vehicles. It was also suggested that the car park be closed earlier in the shoulders of the summer, when the current closing time is after dusk.

Understaffing of downskeepers’ team: the head downskeeper is off work, and another member of the team will be off work shortly. Some support is being received from the council's ranger service to cover evening shifts so that there are trained downskeepers in the mornings.

Ashley Road equestrian crossing: new notices have yet to be installed, and installation has been delayed pending a further review of the crossing.

Rubbing House parking: we questioned whether the board supports proposals to increase hard surfacing outside the Rubbing House, and were told it had not been asked to express a view (which seemed surprising). We asked that the consultative committee be consulted on any such proposals in the future. It was expected that the TGMB would review the situation in November.

Derby race meeting: there was general agreement that the clean-up was better this year.

Downs house stables: an application for planning permission for the house is expected first, followed by one for the rest of the site.

Use of hack areas for parking: we pointed out that, traditionally, parking was excluded from the downs by the simple use of barriers across entrances, and these had been left open in recent years. The racecourse said there was a report to the board on parking for the next meeting, although it was unclear whether this would be taken. We criticised the drafting of a report for the board without prior discussion in the committee, despite that subject being on the agenda. Officers said there would be an opportunity to see a proposal before it was taken by the board. [Ed: So some back-peddling there, and a wrong move by the racecourse.]

Afternoon hack ride on Six Mile Hill: we pointed out that the ride had been left in poor condition after works to upgrade the Polytrack, and this would be visited during the downs tour later in the week. [Ed: it was indeed visited, and in a sorry state. Works are promised over the winter to widen the ride, and allow the worst affected part to recover.]

Access to Lonsdale enclosure: we reminded the racecourse that the tacit agreement was to allow access through the Lonsdale enclosure while fencing was in place, on non-race days. The racecourse agreed that the fence should be dismantled outside race days, and this had not happened. The racecourse would welcome advice of any shortcoming. We asked the racecourse to consider installing a lockable gate, to make it easier to regulate access.

Signposting of hatched area: the sign advising of closure of the hatched area has been replaced.

Missing marker posts along valley hack ride below Rubbing House: these will be replaced this winter.

Parking in Derby Stables Road: we asked whether the board could support measures to regulate parking in Derby Stables Road, as it was not otherwise possible to control the display of vehicles for sale. It was agreed that the board would consider this.

Rifle Butts Alley: we asked whether there were plans for further scrub clearance at the top of Rifle Butts Alley, to build on work done the previous winter, but acknowledged that staff shortages might make that impossible this winter. It was hoped to take action during the winter.

Access for horse riders: we addressed a general concern that the extent of areas available to horse riders were gradually being whittled away (such as the sand track, the hatched area, the scrubbed up areas), and what was being done to replace these when they were out of action? Point made.

Signs for dog walkers: it was explained that signs were being torn down. It was proposed to replace them with laminated signs which were cheap to replace. Signs were being amended to require dogs on leads on Sundays only until 0930.

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The hatched area

NewsPosted by Hugh Craddock 07 Mar, 2016 21:52:54

This notice has recently appeared east of Walton Road at the foot of Six Mile Hill. It reads: 'HATCHED AREA CLOSED'. We asked for the sign to be erected. Why? Clearance at top of Rifle Butts Alley

The hatched area appears, duly hatched, on the statutory map deposited in Parliament with the Epsom and Walton Downs Regulation Bill (now the 1984 Act). The map legend explains: "Part of Walton Downs on which riding is permitted after noon if in the opinion of the Training Grounds Management Board conditions allow". The hatched area extends along much of the bottom of Six Mile Hill, both east and west of Walton Road, below the training grounds, and above the Mac track. Apart from the claimed use of a sliver for occasional training west of Walton Road, it is not maintained for training, and useless for that purpose. But the Board is afraid that, if hack riders are 'permitted' to use it, they may stray north onto the training grounds. In 32 years, the Board has never expressed an opinion that conditions do allow, but at almost every Board meeting, it confirms that conditions do not allow. Of course, the Board's disposition has nothing to do with 'conditions', and everything to do with its jealous conservation of the training grounds.

To remind hack riders that the hatched area should be open to riders' use, at least at certain times, we asked the Board to erect a sign which shows whether 'conditions allow'. One looks in vain for any simple mechanism on the sign (a sliding board perhaps?) to convert 'closed' into 'open', but perhaps that isn't so surprising.

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Meeting, 20 January 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Top of Rifle Butts Alley

NewsPosted by Hugh Craddock 26 Nov, 2015 15:46:26

Officers and downskeepers have scheduled work over the winter of 2015-16 to clear some of the scrub from the top of Rifle Butts Alley (bridleway 66 from Burgh Heath Road). This will improve access for all users between the bridleway and the hack ride along the north perimeter of the golf course and the downs. Work is planned to include improving access along the hack ride itself, where scrub encroachment, by excluding the sun and wind, has caused the track to become waterlogged in wet weather.

Under the Epsom and Walton Downs Regulation Act 1984, all of the land north of the hack ride (between the hack ride and the boundary fence) is designated a hack area — even the area used as a green waste tip — so some clearance here is welcome thanks.

Clearance at top of Rifle Butts Alley

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Meeting, 7 October 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meeting, 28 September 2015

Consultative CommitteePosted by Hugh Craddock 29 Sep, 2015 21:50:12

Introduction: Councillor Liz Frost replaces Jean Smith as chairman of the conservators and ex officio chair of the consultative committee [Ed: Cllr Frost takes over after many years of Mrs Smith's chairmanship, which was initially rotating, but then continuous. Today's consultative committee meeting felt much more like a committee meeting should feel: members were welcome to speak, comments were received respectfully, and there was no sense of inexorably being driven towards closure as early as possible. Whether this represents more than a change in style remains to be seen.]

Car parking for events: no-one was present to give the planned oral update, and a written report was promised. [Ed: this set the tone for the meeting, with lots of actions not followed up. Doubtless the officers are over-stretched, but the meeting didn't feel particularly well prepared for.]

Dog control: officers announced that a report had been commissioned by the Jockey Club from Stephen Jenkinson, an independent consultant on dog control in public spaces, which had just been received. Conflict management training had been scheduled for the downskeepers. This confirmed a desired movement towards better management of dogs (and their owners). The chairman referred to the existing notices on the downs, some of which are old, and refer to 'keeping dogs under control'. A new design has been produced by the the Training Grounds Management Board, which was circulated. The notice would be discussed by the board the following week.

Comments made (by us and others) included:

  • • the draft notice pre-empts full consideration of Stephen Jenkinson's report;
  • • reference in the notice to measures being necessary for dog control on grounds of 'health and safety' were more likely to alienate dog walkers;
  • • there is no legal power to require dogs on leads before noon (this was effectively confirmed by the clerk);
  • • the notice required dogs on lead when horses are present, but it's often not clear whether horses are present;
  • • it's not just horses which need protecting from rampant dogs, but other downs users, such as model aircraft flyers, or families having a picnic;
  • • the notice refers to permission to use the downs under the 1984 Act, but the Act confers a right of access, not just permission.

Stephen's report apparently confirmed that a universal 'dogs on leads' approach would not work. The clerk said that the committee's comments were useful and would be used to inform officers' report to the board next week. I also suggested that the board should consider recruiting staff whose specific background were enforcement, but again, officers said that few authorities were now taking enforcement action because it was costly and was not a successful means of control in isolation. [Ed: correct, but enforcement and prosecution can and should be part of the package where there are egregious breaches: and there are quite a few of those, sometimes putting lives at risk. The conservators should consider whether it is possible to make a public spaces protection order to regulate dog walking, so that breaches could, where appropriate, be dealt with by fixed penalty notices.]

Road humps on Walton Road: no action had been taken to ensure that road humps had been installed to the satisfaction of the highway authority, this would be followed up.

Signposting for hatched area: notices were reported as ready for erection at the board meeting in April, and a check would take place on what had happened.

Hack ride markers on golf course: none had yet been done.

Sand track through woodland west of Nohome Farm: I said that recent use in wet weather suggested the track has been repaired to alleviate boggy conditions, and we were grateful.

Maintenance of triangular hack area east of Downs House: officers still looking into the possibility of procuring machinery to enable the grass to be cut and collected.

Tattenham Corner Road crossing: a meeting will take place between officers and Andrew Cooper about moving the footway from the inside of the corner to the outside, which is where the desire line lies. It was explained that the public often walked on the outside of the road, and the railings were very unforgiving, as they forced walkers into the road. The racecourse said it had never agreed to a swap of sides. The railings could not be set back as this would encourage pedestrian traffic on the racing surface. The chairman asked for the matter to be considered at the next board meeting [Ed: officers were visibly unenthusiastic, doubtless pondering a sense of déja vu]. It was suggested that the local county member might be willing to adopt any necessary works.

Broken gate at top of Chalk Lane: this was discussed with the county councillor, and the council may repair it one more time (and this is thought to have been done).

Issues arising from Derby meeting: the racecourse and officers were meeting to discuss these issues the following day, reporting to next week's board meeting. The contractor had been in operation for three years. It was a challenge to get the downs restored to condition. The first priority was to restore the areas in training use on Sunday morning, and performance was getting better. The weather affected the clean up, and could cause work to be undone. One member suggested that volunteers should be encouraged to engage in the clean-up. I reiterated that there was a particular concern about glass being omitted from the clearance.

Fencing on the downs: it was asked why extensions were permitted to the fencing period. The clerk said the 1984 Act permitted complex set up and take down times for the racing, and it was sometimes inconvenient to dismantle and re-erect in short order, and could harm the downs because of additional traffic. The conservators looked favourably on applications for extensions. The head of legal of the council had agreed that there was a general power to allow this. We reiterated the hack riders' view that the board has no power to extend fencing in the manner permitted.

Later running of Derby and Oaks: it was asked whether the later scheduling of the main races had caused greater disruption in the evening. The racecourse said the gates had opened half-an-hour later than usual, which had allowed a less intense traffic build-up. Both races had been run at 1630, but the entertainment finished at the same time as in the previous year. The last race was at 1750, which was slightly later than in previous years.

Hack ride along 14th tee alongside Grand Stand Road: the golf club had inspected the site with officers and had agreed to allow the grass to regrow along the hack ride to better distinguish the course of the hack ride.

Hack ride and area along bottom of golf course above Rifle Butts Alley: clearance work has already begun and will appear in the winter work programme.

Hack sand track: there would be an oral update to the board meeting next week. It was harrowed and stone picked last week.

Dates of next meeting: to be advised.

Traffic lights at top of Langley Vale Road and Shepherds Walk: a question was asked about installation of lights to enable a safe crossing for horses, cyclists and walkers from one to the other, but no-one knew of progress. It was suggested that the crossing was heavily used by cyclists. It was thought that any proposals could come forward from an analysis of the movement requirements arising from Langley Vale Wood.

[I had to leave slightly ahead of the close of the meeting at this point, but understand that no substantive business followed my departure.

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Meeting, 15 April 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meeting, 16 March 2015

Consultative CommitteePosted by Hugh Craddock 17 Mar, 2015 06:58:06

Today's meeting was most notable for what came at the end: an announcement by Jean Smith, chairman of the board of conservators, and ex officio chairman of the consultative committee, that she was resigning her seat as borough councillor at the election, and therefore leaving her role as chairman. Jean has been chairman since at least 2006, and with at least one stint before that, and her commitment to securing training on Epsom Downs at the economic and cultural heart of the borough is not in doubt. What is in doubt is who will replace her: there is a convention that a borough council member will take the chair, backed by the reality that council members have a majority on the board.

Byelaw signs: it would be expensive to replace the remaining byelaw signs, but they would be addressed over time.

Hack sand track: the legal officer said there had been further correspondence with the Levy Board, and a meeting was proposed in April. The Levy Board maintained that the conservators were responsible for maintenance, and the conservators took the opposite view. It was hoped to agree a pragmatic solution. Harrowing had been done recently, and stones were noted. I asked for this to be done more frequently., since it was clear that the 'recent' event had been a one-off.

Car parking for events: the racecourse had been questioned over use of the grassland on the north side of Ashley Road for overflow car parking, and it acknowledged that it was a long-standing practice which had not previously been questioned. The racecourse said that the ground in this area had changed appreciably since the new roundabout in 1984. We questioned the authority for permitting parking, given part of the area’s use as a hack ride, and the conservation value of other areas. It was agreed that the legal officers would look into the proper use of the land. The legal officer said that the racecourse could do anything unless it were specifically restricted under the Act, even where the Act sets out in tedious detail the precise circumstances in which the racecourse can do something, an interpretation which we would seriously dispute, and one which I doubt even the legal team at the council actually believe (but which may be politically and economically expedient).

Top Wood: downskeepers had done a great deal of work cutting back the scrub line along Top Wood (the belt of woodland at the top of Six Mile Hill) to regain historical boundaries between woodland and downland.

Bridleway 127: complaints of flooding on the Old London Road section of the bridleway across the Hill, to be pursued with Surrey CC.

Speed hump on Walton Road: the cyclists’ representative questioned the installation of the speed hump on Six Mile Hill. We suggested that Surrey CC should be asked to approve the works, in accordance with the 1984 Act, as the road hump might otherwise amount to an obstruction of the highway.

Habitat management plan: we made a number of points on the plan, including the compatibility of horse riding with nature conservation objectives, and criticised the poor management of Juniper Hill which had led to the loss of the small blue butterfly in recent years. Discussions were taking place about a resumption of grazing on Juniper Hill.

Dog control: dog incidents were recorded as a daily occurrence. We made a plea for measures to reflect the risk to hack riders and other downs users as well as trainers. Officers said that there was a particular threat to trainers’ horses travelling at high speed: we said that hack riders did this too.

Old London Road crossing drainage works: we asked for the drainage works to be designed to ensure that excess water did not discharge onto bridleway 127, which would only worsen the present drainage problems. The racecourse provided an assurance that a substantial soakaway would be installed, which would help address the current erosion on the bridleway.

Racing season fencing: we questioned a report to the board on extending the fencing season, which said that the consultative committee: “At its meeting of 4 November 2002, … indicated that it was not opposed to the continuation of the arrangements”. We said that the July 2010 meeting had expressed ‘concerns’ about the extensions, but this had not been reported. It was agreed that next year’s report would reflect the 2010 deliberations. Another member said that the extensions had been opposed by the Civic Society. The committee’s position on an extension would be considered at the next meeting.

Signposting for hatched area: we asked about progress. These were promised for the end of the month.

Horse ride on south side of Downs House enclosure: scrub had been cut back.

Hack ride markers on the golf course: new markers have been made and installed on existing posts, or posts will be replaced soon.

Sand track west of Nohome Farm: officers will investigate the boggy path with a visit to the site.

Maintenance of triangular hack area east of Downs House: officers suggested that a cut-and-collect operation (on the grass) would be required.

Top of Rifle Butts Alley: clearance of the scrub along the hack ride which crosses the top of the bridleway would be included on the work programme for next year.

Downs clean-up: we complained particularly about cleaning up glass after the Derby. Officers said that areas used by trainers were prioritised, which we said was unacceptable: hack riders’ horses were at risk from glass (as indeed are all downs users), and it was perfectly feasible for the racecourse to put in place a process to deal with it, in fulfilment of its statutory duty to clear up after the Derby. The committee listened politely, but the impression was that the racecourse 'does its best'.

Tattenham Corner Road crossing: a request was made to bring the pavement on the crossing to the opposite side, so that there was safe access from Tattenham Corner to the downs via the equestrian crossing: this was particularly important for disabled users.

New path on Epsom golf course: the golf course wishes to create a new path between the 11th and 12th tees, to accommodate a route subject to heavy wear. There were no comments or objections.

Downs House update: the council were awaiting exchange of contracts, presumably for a new trainer to move in.

Crossing Headley Road to Shepherds Walk: It was suggested that a light-controlled crossing was needed. The Woodland Trust was considering an application for parking near the junction, and this might boost the case for a crossing.

Gate at top of Chalk Lane: this had been broken for some time. The gate had been installed with a local councillor’s (Tina Mountain) funds. We said that the board should see Chalk Lane as integral to the enjoyment of the downs, and lobby for its effective protection. This would be reported to the board. The legal officer said he would discuss the issues with the ward councillors.

Timing of the Derby: racing will begin at around 14:00, the Oaks and Derby will run at 16:30, two further races will follow, with a finish at around 17:50−18:00.

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Meeting, 21 January 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meeting, 13 October 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Downs House: the legal process was expected to continue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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