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, 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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Meeting, 29 September 2014

Consultative CommitteePosted by Hugh Craddock 02 Oct, 2014 22:29:20

Hack sand track: the levy board has declined responsibility, referring to past correspondence with David Smith about funding for the horse walks, in which the TGMB took responsibility for future maintenance. However, we said that the horse walks were nothing to do with the hack sand track, which point was accepted. We also criticised maintenance which appeared to have ceased in recent months.

Signposting of the gallops: it was planned to replace the ‘look right’ signs on the gallops.

Use of downs for car parking for events: an update on the racecourse position will be emailed later.

Signposting of cycle routes: we asked what further action was to be taken to ensure cyclists know where they can go (and which routes are closed to them). The previous meeting had agreed that some marking was appropriate, but the chairman decided to reopen the debate about whether marking were necessary. It was thought that the code of conduct sign maps were sufficient indication. However, it was agreed to consider at the next board meeting.

Downs House: the sale process was continuing and remained subject to contract.

Vegetation along back of Rosebery Road: I questioned whether it was fair to take enforcement action against householders who had cut down vegetation at the back of their houses, where this had grown up unplanned and uncontrolled, perhaps obstructing a view which existed previously. However, the balance of opinion was in favour of enforcement.

Chalk Lane: we had a useful (if slightly irrelevant) discussion about the regulation of traffic on Chalk Lane. The chairman suggested that representations were made to the local committee.

Golf course: the golf course had withdrawn for now a proposal to clear trees around the 1st hole, but might revert to the scheme in the future.

Horse ride on south side of Downs House enclosure: we asked when the cutting back would begin — enquiries would be made.

Hack ride markers on golf course: we asked for markers to emphasise the routes along Burgh Heath Road and Grand Stand Road.

Sand track west of Nohome Farm: we asked for some attention to address the muddy section through the woods.

Dog control: there seemed to be some enthusiasm for a case being found suitable for prosecution.

East of Downs House triangle: we asked about maintenance of this area, which appeared to have ceased.

Vending on the downs: an ice–cream van was regularly parked on the corner of Tattenham Corner Road and Old London Road, outside the Hyperion enclosure, which obstructed visibility at the roundabout. It was explained that the vans had to be licensed, but the vendor was at liberty to park on the highway. The point would be considered further.

Replacement of byelaw boards: was it intended to replace the byelaw boards, or were the code of conduct signs sufficient? Should the old boards therefore be removed? It was planned to present the results of a sign audit to the board.

Timing of running of Derby: a later time for the race was thought likely to attract a bigger audience. College ward residents were reported to be concerned that this would lengthen the duration of the disruption until later in the evening, particularly if the Derby were run in the evening. It was suggested that local residents should be consulted on any changes.

Dates of next meetings: 16 March and 28 September 2015.

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New common land at Buckland Hills

NewsPosted by Hugh Craddock 31 Aug, 2014 10:12:56

Last month, I blogged about the exchange land application pursued by Walton Heath golf club to release part of Beecham's Field from its status as common land. The application was granted in July.

On Saturday, I unexpectedly discovered that club has already dismantled the fencing surrounding the lower part of the replacement land on Lady Hill, south-east of the Pfizer premises in Walton on the Hill. That means that walkers and riders on bridleway 477, which threads a narrow and at times awkward route around the southern perimeter of the replacement land, can now head straight across the open grassland in preference to the lower line of the bridleway, and enjoy the wonderful views south over the Surrey weald. However, do watch out for the fence post holes adjacent to the bridleway.

Here's the view from the track, shown on the Ordnance Survey map, which runs east-west across the top of the slope: Lady Hill, looking south-east

and the view from further up Lady Hill, adjacent to Round Wood: Lady Hill, looking south from adjacent to Round Wood

Here is the view looking west back towards Dewriding Plantation. The fence along the edge of the field has been removed. At present, there is no physical access on horseback from the gateway onto the bridleway west to Buckland Lane, although it's possible to pick up the bridleway a little lower down. Lady Hill, looking west to Dewriding Plantation

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Walton Heath exchange granted

NewsPosted by Hugh Craddock 17 Jul, 2014 09:46:35

This is about Beecham's Field on Walton Heath: a bit outside the usual scope of this blog, but one into which I got drawn owing to a colleague BHS access officer being away at the relevant time.

Walton Heath is an extensive area of common land, 202 hectares, register unit CL355 of the manor of Walton on the Hill, now largely adopted as a prestigious golf course. It's owned by Walton Heath Golf Club, which maintains the course to a high standard, with some beautiful heathland covering much of the roughs. More remarkably, the heath is an 'urban common' subject to section 193 of the Law of Property Act 1925, which means there is a right of access for the public, including on horseback, subject to the order of limitation made by the former Minister of Agriculture. The order restricts access so as to cause damage: the BHS would therefore advise against riding on any of the tees, or on the fairways when the ground is damp or wet. It is politic to avoid riding on the fairways while the course is in play except as a means of crossing between roughs or public bridleways. The order also prohibits riding on the gallops, which were in use until the early post-war period for training horses, and which are still marked on the Ordnance Survey maps: however, since the gallops have long since ceased to be used for training, we think that the limitation in that respect is unenforceable (and it is unlikely that anyone would seek to enforce it).

Beecham's Field is primarily a practice driving area on the south side of Dorking Road south of the recreation ground. It is crossed by public footpath 96, and fringed by the western part of the gallop (now a hard surfaced service road). The golf club applied, under section 16 of the Commons Act 2006, to deregister all of the practice area north of the footpath, and (as it must) offered replacement land (to be registered as common land) south of the M25 above the line of public bridleway 477. The replacement land has good views over the Surrey Weald, but is quite distant from any substantial areas of population.

The application was considered at a four day public inquiry in May by a Planning Inspectorate inspector on behalf of the Secretary of State, and was opposed by Tadworth and Walton Residents' Association and others, and by the BHS (see our speaking notes to the inquiry, and closing legal submission), while the golf club retained a QC and consultants to present its case.

In short, the inspector has now issued a decision letter (go here and look for Section 16 decision letters, COM491) which grants the application, and Beecham's Field will soon be deregistered. The decision isn't good for local people, and I regret the outcome from their point of view.

However, provided the club keeps to its undertakings given to the inquiry as regards the replacement land, it will remove the fences along bridleway 477 (allowing riders freely to enter the replacement land), it will ensure access for horses at each end off the bridleway (restoring to use a short-cut across the lower field with magnificent views south), and it will have entered into an enduring obligation to maintain the release land (which should prevent its scrubbing up in the way that has happened to other replacement land further east). All these undertakings were given to the inquiry, and all of them were requested by the BHS. The only bit we asked for but didn't get was access to the replacement land direct south from the bridle bridge over the M25 (instead, riders coming this way will probably need to cross the old fields south-east from the bridge to join bridleway 477, then head back west).

So a quite satisfactory outcome considering we 'lost'. And the views from the new land really will be rather good — and accessible to riders.

And note that at no time did the golf club contest the BHS view that riders could go anywhere on the golf course provided they did not cause damage. That is worthwhile in itself.

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Meeting, 17 June 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meeting, 22 April 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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