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.

Parking in front of the Derby Arms (2)

NewsPosted by Hugh Craddock 02 Sep, 2018 11:39:14

In June, I blogged that we had written to the chairman of the board of conservators to probe the board's decision to establish new car parks on the downs, outside the Derby Arms, and in the triangle between Ashley Road, Langley Vale Road and the racecourse, for events parking.

After protracted correspondence with the council's chief legal officer (acting for the board of conservators), we are none the wiser. The board has refused to cast any light on the powers which it intends to exercise, referring only to its original, and seriously defective, report to the board. We will now wait to see whether the proposals for implementation of the parking arrangements, which are to be set out in a management plan, are compatible with the limited powers which the board possesses to create new public car parks.

You can see the correspondence here, with the earliest exchanges first: our original letter to the chairman, then: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (all emails are printed with the most recent first, so start at the bottom of each document).

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Parking in front of the Derby Arms (1)

NewsPosted by Hugh Craddock 22 Jun, 2018 08:46:03

At the conservators' meeting on 18 June, the board approved proposals to authorise the racecourse to use land in front of the Derby Arms, and the triangle between Ashley Road, Langley Vale Road and the racecourse, for events parking — the paper is at agenda item 8 here.

The BHS responded to the consultation on the proposals earlier this year with a submission that the conservators have no power under the Epsom and Walton Downs Regulation Act 1984 to authorise use of the land for events car parking (included at pages 43–46 of the report). At the conservators' board meeting this week, the board received a report from the clerk that it could authorise the proposed use — but as a public car park. We have written to the chairman of the board, Cllr Liz Frost, to clarify whether it really is the intention of the board to establish two new public car parks in these areas.

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Meeting, 18 June 2018

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 18 Jun, 2018 17:35:01

Chairman: Liz Frost was elected chairman, and Simon Durrant vice-chairman, to no-one's surprise.

Hack sand track: the Horse Race Levy Board had finally responded to correspondence, and said it wished to resolve matters in anticipation of the transfer of regulatory functions to the Gambling Commission. The clerk confirmed that the board agreed with this perspective.

Training Grounds Management Board: the number of horses in training is unchanged, with the number of winners slightly higher. A new call-button for the equestrian crossing at the Queen's Stand has now been installed. The hatched area is again open for use by hack riders during the afternoon. There is an initiative to improve accommodation for trainers' staff.

Gypsy camp site: a question was asked about the timing of the opening of the site during Derby week. It was stated that the camp on Court Recreation Ground had no intention of moving to the downs.

Derby race meeting: this was the 239th race meeting. Planning worked well, with good commitment from all partners, and generally good weather. There was little negative feedback from trainers. Clean-up was said to be 'really, really good'. Friday was busier than last year, and Saturday was said to have achieved the numbers in 2015, after a dip in intervening years.

Parking in front of the Derby Arms: the chairman introduced a lengthy paper with seven annexes, following a local consultation earlier in the year, about parking in front of the Derby Arms (Ed: arrogantly described in the report as 'car park 6', as if that were the land's primary purpose). The racecourse also wished to use the land on the south side of Ashley Road also bounded by the racecourse and Langley Vale Road for parking ('car park 2a'). The chairman drew attention to the responses from the Civic Society and the British Horse Society. The trainers' representative said that use of car park 2a was giving rise to weekly conflict not consistent with the statistics reported of use of this area reported by the racecourse. He had concerns about safety unless there was very careful policing. The chairman said that conditions could be imposed about use of the area to protect horses in training. The racecourse said that the two car parks had been used throughout the preparatory period, and the statistics were recorded to the best of staff ability. Statistics would continue to be recorded.

A member said she was concerned that land should not be given up to commercial use as pressure increases on open space in the borough: it could be used a few times a year but not all year round. The chairman questioned what was meant by 'commercial' use, and the member said it was a commercial company using the open space: she did not wish to see a car park at the top of the downs every time one passed that way. The clerk said there were several options, including to grant with conditions, such as to limit the number of events. The statistics for the previous year suggested that conditions could best be achieved through a management plan.

The trainers' representative asked on what terms support was sought for car park 2a: the chairman said that there were options to refuse, approve without limitation, or approve with conditions such as no more than 40 days per year (which could be divided between the two car parks). Another member suggested that the areas should be used only when the existing car parks were full, and that car park 6 should be used in preference to car park 2. The racecourse said that was already the practice. The chairman said that a preference between car park 2 and 6 ought to be a matter for consideration in a management plan. There were issues with use of the two areas by horses in training and by hack riders: the management plan could take account of those interests. The clerk said the racecourse would be asked to put forward a management plan, which could be approved either by officers or the board. A member said that she would wish to see the management plan before it was approved. The clerk offered an alternative of a year's implementation with a review to follow.

A member said that the board had a duty to protect the downs, but also wished to foster the vitality of the racecourse: he did not wish to approve the management plan. Some 40 days would not represent an intensification of use. A member asked what control would be placed on people parking in the areas: the clerk said that they were not regulated and would be free car parks. The racecourse said that a barrier prevented access to car park 6, while car park 2 was freely open: anyone could drive on to it [Ed: we think there used to be a barrier across the paved access over a dropped kerb here]. It would be difficult to issue badges, as users were ad hoc. The chairman said this could be looked at later on if regulation were needed.

The trainers' representative did not wish to give a long-term commitment to use of car park 2, because of the potential for conflict, and asked about proposed marshalling. The clerk proposed an annual review of the arrangements, as currently done for events on the downs. A member asked what would be the impact on the racecourse if the application were refused? Who would enforce any conditions imposed? Insufficient consideration had been given to the proposals. The clerk said that refusal of consent would not necessarily prevent use of the car parks as there were no restrictions to achieve this [Ed: it is not clear whether the clerk was referring to physical restrictions or legal restrictions, but is wrong in either case.] A member asked if a review in one year would allow for withdrawal of any consent? The clerk said that the consent could be time limited to one year from the date of approval of the management plan.

A member supported the BHS legal analysis that the board had no power to approve the proposals. The clerk said this argument had been rebutted in the report. The member also questioned why there were no barriers in place at present? The clerk said that the racecourse's application was intended to rely on the board's duty to balance the interests in the downs, set out in para.2.10 drawn 'from the legislation'. A vote to refuse was supported by one member, there was no support for unconditional approval, and a significant majority to approve with conditions [Ed: presumably with the management plan to be approved by officers vice members: the member's proposal to scrutinise the draft management plan was not mentioned at this point].

Hack riders' map: it was asked whether the map would be posted on the downs, as well as produced in leaflet form. A member asked how users would understand the rubric about use of the hatched area, and whether reference should be made to signs on site. There was some discussion about publicising the new map and raising awareness, and the board might revert to this at a future meeting. A member said that conflict was sometimes caused by other users being unaware of the extent of the hack rides. Agreement to publish.

Forward plan: a member suggested the board should consider the potential for future live music events. The chairman said this was a matter for the racecourse.

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Meeting, 16 April 2018

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 16 Apr, 2018 17:59:18

Woodland Trust application: there was some discussion of the Woodland Trust application for the Memorial Wood, particularly because of the impact on the bridleway across Headley Road. The chairman showed some concern that the application was outside the Conservators' area, and concerns should be expressed to Mole Valley district council as the lead planning authority.

Staffing: it was asked whether the downskeepers were restored to full strength, and it was confirmed that they were, comprising six downskeepers.

Replacement of telecommunications joint box: the conservators had been asked to approve works to replace a sunken box on the downs near the toilet block on Tattenham Corner Road. Approval granted.

Events: a slate of applications for events on the downs was before the conservators for approval. It was confirmed, in response to a question, that all of the events had taken place previously, with similar numbers. Approval was given for all with no further discussion.

The meeting closed at a remarkable 18:21.

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Meeting, 12 March 2018

Consultative CommitteePosted by Hugh Craddock 12 Mar, 2018 17:55:43

Chief executive of the council, Katherine Beldon was introduced as the new ex officio clerk to the conservators.

The water main replacement works near the Derby Arms public house have nearly concluded.

We welcomed the revised hack riders' map, and said that, subject to feedback on some minor details, this would be very useful to hack riders on the downs. A final draft would be presented to the board.

Hack sand track: a response had been received from the Horse Race Levy Board to our enquiries, and a meeting with the chairman of the HRLB was planned.

Consultation on parking outside the Grand Stand enclosure: we asked for our response to be placed in whole before the board.

Signposting/marker posts: officers intend to review the location of posts after completing work on the hack riders' map.

Vegetation clearance: nothing new had been done during the winter season, because of staff shortage and works to the car parks. We expressed particular concern about the braided paths at the top of Rifle Butts Alley. Agreed to prioritise for next winter, if it could not be done immediately.

Hatched area: currently closed, but will be opened when it dries out. Riders occasionally have been noticed riding too far east or west.

Dog control: the present regime is considered to be much more successful in preventing dog interference with horses. We think dog keepers' behaviour is improved too.

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Meeting, 23 January 2018

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 22 Jan, 2018 17:15:27

Parking on the Downs House triangle: a limited consultation on proposals is expected soon.

Repair works to water pipes to gypsy site: repairs were required to the water supply to the gypsy site on the downs, used during the Derby fortnight. The costs had not yet been ascertained, but might be between £3k and £5.5k. I arrived slightly late, and it was clear that there had already been some mixed views expressed about who should pay. There was concern that if the conservators covered the costs, it would establish a liability for the future. Conservators agreed that a contribution would be appropriate, on the basis that the gypsy site existed at the discretion of the conservators. Was the racecourse prepared to maintain the investment — the racecourse representative said (more or less) that it was. The chairman proposed a contribution of £1k; two (councillor) members suggested that the conservators should fund the whole cost, or at least half. The chairman upped the proposal to half of the maximum cost anticipated in the report: this was agreed, with one member proposing raising the site fees to recover the expenditure.

Radio controlled dethermaliser: the Epsom Downs Model Aircraft Club had sought approval for its members to use the device to help control the landing of free-flight model aircraft on land designated for craft of this kind (which is a much larger area of the downs than permitted for radio-controlled aircraft: see byelaw 7(2)). It was proposed that club members operating these devices should wear an arm-band to identify their membership. This was agreed. [Ed: The legal advice failed to resolve the tension that byelaw 7(1) simply doesn't allow the use of radio-controlled aircraft over the larger area: this is not something the conservators have power to resolve.]

Cabling works on downs: a proposal to carry out works in the owners' and trainers' car park on the downs. This would upgrade to meet modern technology requirements. The works would be near the path from the Ashley Road signalled crossing to the Rubbing House crossing of the racecourse. An alternative route onto the downs may be required while the works take place, which could last a fortnight. Agreed.

2018–19 budget: the condition of some of the car parks had deteriorated, and provision had been made for increased repair costs, which called for a 3.1% increase in the budget, compared with the previously agreed 2% rise. The budget was agreed with only one question.

Racing season: an extension to the fencing period, and racing on certain Sundays and evenings, was agreed. The racecourse would seek powers from the traffic regulation authority to close one of the footpaths across the racecourse on Ladies' Day and Derby Day. The racecourse will run four race evenings with decadal themes from the 1960s onwards, but no big name act is likely.

Sand track: a member asked about whether there had been a response from the Horse Race Levy Board. An office said contact had been made with the Levy Board, and discussions were taking place.

The meeting closed at 1845

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Meeting, 4 October 2017

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 04 Oct, 2017 17:50:38

Cedar Point: planning applications had been made which would bring racing use of the yard to an end. The Jockey Club has objected.

Staffing of downskeepers: the staff are now up to a full complement.

Mid-year budget: the external auditors have signed off the 2016–17 accounts, but questioned the delayed sign-off to the accounts because the June meeting was inquorate. A £4.3k overspend was forecast for 2017–18 owing to unexpected VAT costs. Balances remained healthy. It was agreed to aim for a 2% budget increase in 2018–19.

Events approvals: a large number of events were up for approval, including some imminent ones. The Mole Valley Orienteering Club had applied for approval for an event (on the 22 October!) which was novel for the downs, but expected to have less impact than events using planned routes. A list of events was read out to the conservators by the chairman, but with the member most critical of events absent, there was less comment. There was a discussion about the timing of approvals for a particular season, as not all events for a particular season were presented for approval at the same meeting. Officers explained that organisers of large events preferred to seek approval well in advance, whereas those of smaller events saw no need to do so until closer to the event. However, there was no guarantee that all high impact events planned for a particular season would be presented to conservators for determination at the same meeting. The Race for Life was approved for 24 June 2018 and the Memory Walk (Alzheimer's Society) for 23 September 2018 — both major impact events — but the latter was capped at 2,000 participants (compared with the 4,000 sought). Officers commented that the Race for Life had in the past been capped at 4,000 including spectators, and was now committed to a maximum number of 1,650 participants. Officers were asked to prepare a paper for a future meeting to review maximum event numbers.

Hack sand track: it was asked if the track had deteriorated further. The head downskeeper said it had got worse as there was no maintenance. The chairman proposed that the board write to local stables to inform hack riders of the poor state of the track. A member added that the letter should explain the context, why the track was not maintained. Concern was also expressed that a letter might suggest the board had some liability, but the chairman said the letter would make clear that the board was not liable. A member questioned the purpose of the letter [Ed: the chairman failed to point out that the purpose of the letter was to identify that the sand track was unsafe, and therefore to avoid harm to hack riders and their mounts] and the conclusion of the meeting was that no letter should be sent.

Signs audit: a report proposing a schedule for replacing signs on the downs would be presented to the meeting in January 2018.

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Meeting, 18 September 2017

Consultative CommitteePosted by Hugh Craddock 18 Sep, 2017 21:38:17

Derby race meeting: weather had been helpful, but the terrorist incident in Manchester ten days before had heightened concerns for security. The racecourse said the clear-up had been good, and others agreed.

Parking on the grassland (enclosed by Tattenham Corner Road, Langley Vale Road north of the underpass and the racecourse railings): officers would need to look into parking on this area to see whether a problem was occurring. It would be raised with conservators at a future meeting.

Scrub clearance at the top of Rifle Butts Alley: described as a continuing project, where work had been done last winter, and would continue to be done. We asked for clearance to be done around the braided section of the hack ride, and the need for action this winter seemed to be understood.

Hack ride between Burgh Heath Road and Longdown Lane South: we asked for vegetation clearance along the hack ride (mainly low branches) — this will be done as soon as possible.

Hatched area ride: few issues reported to date with riders straying — we said that some indication was needed of limits to the hack ride, and particularly emphasis that there was no other access to the area apart from off Walton Road.

Hack sand track: we said that riders needed to be notified of the poor state of the sand track to avoid potential injuries to horses whose riders are unfamiliar with it. The clerk said that the racecourse was not responsible for the sand track, but the point would be taken to the conservators.

Reinstatement of the afternoon ride at the top of Six Mile Hill: officers said that cutting-back has been done to widen the area, and vehicles are excluded, to help the area regenerate over time. The TGMB proposed to reinstate the railings at the top end, and this was agreed.

Cutting of grass on The Hill: in the past, the limits of the hatched area were marked by distinctive cuts to the grass. Officers said they would look at whether a grass baulk could be left along the boundaries.

Condition of concrete posts: some of the concrete posts along the racecourse were deteriorating and liable to collapse. These would be inspected and dealt with.

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Epsom Vision

NewsPosted by Hugh Craddock 21 Apr, 2017 09:11:12

The Epsom Vision leaflet was distributed at the meeting of the board of conservators on 19 April 2017, where I've commented on it. I've subsequently kindly received an electronic copy courtesy of the racecourse which you can view here. Do take a look, or download the pdf: it's about promoting Epsom as a centre of training for racing. Why does that matter to hack riders? Because it's thanks to the racing industry, and the income it generates, that Epsom and Walton Downs are such a superb location for all riders. Take away the racing, and the funding, and the whole of the downs will end up as woodland.

Epsom Vision for racing on Epsom Downs, page 1

Epsom Vision for racing on Epsom Downs, page 2

Epsom Vision for racing on Epsom Downs, page 3

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Meeting, 19 April 2017

ConservatorsPosted by Hugh Craddock 19 Apr, 2017 17:33:13

Clerk to the conservators: Following the resignation of the previous clerk and chief executive to the council, the new clerk, Kathryn Beldon, was welcomed as ex officio clerk to the conservators, and Lee Duffy as interim treasurer.

Training Grounds Management Board: copies of a new leaflet, A Vision for Epsom, were circulated at the meeting, promoting use of the downs for training. [Ed: as an aside, the leaflet documents the decline in horses in training on the downs from over 600 in the 1960s to just 135 now. It vividly maps how many yards have been lost to development, including a cluster in Langley Vale and another cluster north of the downs. Some former yards were located so far from the downs (including one at or near Glanmire Farm, and another near the Brighton Road near Burgh Heath) that one wonders whether they trained on the downs at all. I've put the leaflet in a subsequent post.]

Hack sand track: officers had now written again to the Horse Race Levy Board about its position on the sand track. No response had been received.

Afternoon patrols: additional patrols are now being carried out in the afternoon to deal with hack riders straying onto the training grounds.

Water leak: a leak had been found in the supply to the downskeepers' hut and it was proposed to reroute the mains supply away from but parallel to Tattenham Corner Road west of the hut — the work would take place over a week, but probably postponed until after the Derby.

Policy to regulate small group sessions on the downs: it was observed that the conservators had no policy to deal with small groups using the downs perhaps for commercial or regular purposes, such as commercial exercise classes, and a new policy was proposed to cover such uses. There was concern that these uses could conflict with training and other uses. It was planned to charge a minimum of £25 per session. There was recognition that it would be difficult to distinguish, say, joggers on public rights of way [Ed: or indeed, anywhere else on the downs] from semi-formal training sessions. The trainers' representative was concerned about impact on horses in training, particularly in the morning, and referred to difficulties encountered with people engaged in kick-boxing training, which, despite a good dialogue with those concerned, was still affecting horses in the vicinity. The racecourse sensibly asked what controls existed at present to control such activities: the trainers' representative [Ed: rather wishfully] thought that repeated activities would cause damage and therefore would be subject to regulation, while officers mentioned a byelaw against 'organised games' and suggested that this illustrated a wider power to prevent damage to the downs [Ed: without specifying quite how]. It was noted that DCLG was currently consulting on the regulation of outdoor activities in public parks, but this was not though likely to lead to controls affecting land such as the downs. A member said that he led walks for health over the downs, and was concerned about the implications of greater regulation: officers replied that, as a structured and formal event, it ought to be subject to regulation. But others wanted to divert such activities away from the downs or to impose a larger fee. [Ed: although the proposals seemed orientated towards commercial activities, and it was recognised that a policy would be difficult to enforce, there was mention of regulating guided walks and post-natal classes, at least the former of which are done in exercise of the public rights of access. It is hard to see how it will be possible to discriminate between activities which are in pursuit of public rights, and those which are not, nor what action the conservators would take if anyone declined to seek formal approval, or was refused approval.] The proposal was rejected unanimously, with the chairman suggesting that it might be better to identify those activities which were detrimental. [Ed: but it was unclear how refusing a policy to regulate such events would ensure that they did not take place at all, nor how officers could encapsulate in a policy those activities which were intrinsically detrimental, without having the opportunity to examine proposed events in an application.]

Events on the downs: officers said that more applications were being received to hold events on the downs, and there was special attention to two Alzheimer’s Society Memory Walks which could attract 3,000–6,000 participants on Sundays in September 2017 and 2018. Officers compared with the Race for Life which was capped at 4,000 participants, organisers and spectators. The trainers' representative said that they would be unable to use the downs for training on those Sundays owing to the numbers on the downs and the additional traffic. Officers said that it would be open to stipulate that events should not be allowed on site before 0930. The trainers' representative said that this would accommodate training needs, but would affect local people's enjoyment of the downs. It would be possible to defer the proposal for 2018 until after this year's event had taken place. The head downskeeper said that litter collection from the Race for Life was improving, but was concerned about physical impact on the downs. Participants used the downs in advance of the event to practise, and officers agreed that this could not be controlled. A member pointed out that, if such events were allowed, it would be difficult to justify refusing the minor events considered earlier. The racecourse said that participants did not confine themselves to the surfaced routes, and strayed onto the grass and the gallops, and regretted the potential impact on the winter training areas at that time of year. Officers drew attention to the parallel between Race for Life in June, and the Alzheimer's Society Memory Walk in September: could the latter justifiably be refused if the former were permitted? A member suggested that there should be a cap on participant numbers, perhaps alternating between permissions for events in alternate years. The trainers' representative spoke out against several proposed running races, and there was a consensus against approving them all, but a majority to approve one subject to negotiation on the route. The racecourse said that the conservators should be cautious about engaging in applications on a case-by-case basis, particularly where new applications were on all fours with already approved applications, which raised questions about how they were distinguished. Officers noted that the policy allowed up to five B-class policies in the year, but only one had been approved so far this year. A member suggested that the policy should favour events connected with the borough, and the chairman agreed that the conservators could look at that in future: officers noted that although organisers were not necessarily local, those who participated often were. In the event, members were against approving just one Memory Walk, even with a reduced cap on numbers, and these were rejected.

Audit of signs on the downs: an electronic record of signage had been completed, but maintenance and repair would be demanding on resources. Steps would be taken to prioritise and plan future works.

Review of habitat management plan to include golf course: the plan had been revised to incorporate the golf course in a relatively independent but integral part of the overall plan.

The meeting closed at 19:25.

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