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, 24 January 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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