Hack writer

Hack writer

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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, 17 March 2014

Consultative CommitteePosted by Hugh Craddock 17 Mar, 2014 22:18:55

Walton Road: we asked for correction of the minutes of the last meeting to amend reference to consideration of a 'stopping up order' for Walton Road, and substitute reference to a traffic regulation order, which is what we understood was contemplated — even though the racecourse has decided not to pursue such an order. If the racecourse was, in fact, considering seeking a stopping up order, that would be dramatically more serious for future use of Walton Road across the downs.

Cycling: now that the new byelaw prohibiting cycling on the downs, other than on authorised routes, is in effect, we asked what plans were contemplated to sign the authorised cycling routes across the downs, so that enforcement could take place against cyclists who departed from the authorised routes. Without such marking, cyclists could not possibly know where they could and could not go.

Hack sand track: The Horserace Levy Board had been to inspect the track and consider what works were required. They had undertaken to look at their records in relation to the sand track, and a meeting was required to discuss the situation and arrive at a pragmatic solution. Even the chairman said that the matter had dragged 'on and on'. We asked about the timescale for resolution, and asked what could be done on an interim basis? The chairman said that funding was the chief obstacle to serious works in the interim. The head downskeeper said that harrowing and stone picking continued on a regular basis.

Ownership of the downs: we pressed again for clarification of whether the racecourse ownership had been duly registered in the Land Registry, to protect the public interest in the land, and it was confirmed that it had been. This will make it much more difficult for adjoining landowners or residents to filch the downs by adverse possession (and therefore deny the public rights of access).

Code of conduct signs: we asked whether there were plans for further code of conduct signs, to build on the three which were now in place, and to replace the dilapidated signs elsewhere on the downs. The chairman said the Jockey Club had provided funding for a further two, and the Board would be asked to approve the siting of these. The downskeepers had undertaken an audit of signs on the downs, noting that some byelaws signs had been lost; the intention was subsequently to move on to look at what further signs were required.

Tarmacadam surfacing of Walton Road across Six Mile Hill: no application had yet been made to the planning authority or to the highway authority for approval to extend the surfacing works. We had put some suggestions to the previous meeting of the board, which had been constructively considered and we appreciated the decision to remove the fencing after a temporary period. The only fencing which remained was at the top of Six Mile Hill, where the surface of the road was not sealed, and the fencing was retained there to guide users onto the sealed section further downhill; however, the racecourse agreed to review the width allowed to users if this were felt to be inadequate at present.

Carriage driving on Walton Road: the racecourse declined to add anything further to the statement minuted at the previous board meeting, that it would not seek any change to user rights on Walton Road.

Signposting of the hatched area: we asked for the hatched area to be signed as either available or unavailable, and this was agreed (Ed: of course, in practice, it will be signed permanently as unavailable: but at least that will be obvious to all).

Car parking on hack areas: we asked about the powers of the racecourse to authorise car parking on the hack areas, particularly that outside the Derby Arms pub, during events (other than on racedays) — the racecourse will respond at a later date.

Constitution: The council's chief solicitor said that a report on the Bill in 1984 said that the consultative committee was set up under an undertaking, to include the TGMB, Epsom Downs Riders' Protection Society and the British Horse Society, for the purpose of consultation on future management and control of the hack rides and paths: so the purposes were considered to be quite specific. The chief solicitor then spoke to oppose many of the working group's proposed amendments to the committee's constitution.

Objects: this was a choice between 'advising' or 'supporting' the board in the discharge of its functions. We said that 'advice' was more appropriate, as 'support' implied complacent agreement. The chairman said that support was reinforcement, whereas advice was caution, urging and informing. We took the view that this underlined the appropriateness of the committee's role in giving advice and not support. Two other members spoke advocating 'advice and assistance', and another said that advice underpinned the principle of consultation. Another spoke in favour of support.

The working group had also advocated consultation to include the remit of 'appearance and biodiversity' to reflect the full range of interests in the downs. The chairman noted that the board had a duty to promote biodiversity, and that the chairman had herself proposed the inclusion of a representative of biodiversity interests on the committee. Yet the inclusion of the additional words was not agreed, although quite how the balance of opinion stood within the committee was unclear.

Membership: the proposal was to broaden the membership to include the residents' associations, but the chief solicitor said that the intention was to embrace the user groups rather than residents' associations, and expressed concern that some residents' associations were registered as political parties. We responded that the committee had freedom of manoeuvre to constitute the committee as the committee thought fit. The cycling representative commented on not wishing to be one of the few users groups 'left outside the gates' if the residents' associations were admitted. The chief solicitor and the chairman thought that it would be legitimate for the cyclists to be members. One member supported the working group recommendation. On the membership of the Model Aircraft Club and the Lower Mole Countryside Management Project, it was explained that the working group's intention was to have wider representation without embracing excessive membership, and to include those who were affected by use of the downs rather than having specific and localised interests who made use of the downs. We said that the membership of the committee was an all or nothing argument: either all users should be represented (including for example dog walkers and kite flyers), or only the minimum (i.e. the hack riders). And we also counselled against membership for the Lower Mole Countryside Management Project, as it had a direct access to the board in an officer role. It was agreed to add representation for cyclists and model aircraft flyers, with no firm view on the representation of residents' associations, and exclusion of the LMCMP.

Persons in attendance: the working group proposed to enable the committee to invite persons to attend via the office of the chairman, rather than to leave this power at the discretion of the chairman. One member said the committee ought to have the power to make such decisions, but the chairman felt that the chairman would in any case reflect the views of the committee. It was agreed not to change the wording. In view of positions previously adopted, it was noted that it might be necessary to retain the representation of the residents' associations as persons attending

Representation of matters on behalf of committee: the chief solicitor spoke against a proposal to enable the committee to represent an item direct to the board, saying that it went beyond the scope of the committee and encroached on the board's remit. The chairman said that this power was unnecessary, because it already happened. We said that the proposal sensibly codified existing practice. Two members spoke in support of the proposal.

Special meetings: we had asked for a power for members to requisition special meetings. The chief solicitor described this as having meetings 'willy nilly'; we said that a suitable quorum (on which calculation we were flexible) would prevent meetings being held without due cause; we referred to the notorious proposal for a concern on the Hill, several years ago, as an example of momentous business which was apparently conceived and disposed of by the board between meetings of the consultative committee. Three members spoke in support, one suggesting a higher quorum. This was recorded as not unanimous, but no-one spoke against.

It was agreed that the working group should be able to attend the relevant board meeting to explain its thinking.

(Ed: the chairman's system for assessing the view of the committee on each proposal, so that it could be reported to the board, was hard to understand. There was lamentably little engagement by other non-working group members of the committee on many of the proposals, and typically, a small number of members expressed views for or against individual proposals, so that there might be, say, two members for and one against. However, the consensual view of the four working group members (who it might be taken were supportive of the working group proposals) were not weighed in the balance, and the chairman was assiduous in avoiding a vote — but while perhaps understandable as consistent with usual practice in the committee, a few votes might both have woken up a few reticent members, and indicated the true disposition of feeling. As it was, several worthwhile proposals were conceded for lack of support (or indeed, opposition), and none was wholeheartedly endorsed (or opposed) by the committee. Yet the constitution ought to be a matter primarily decided by the committee itself, and sufficient to generate some lively debate. One is minded to ask whether today's desultory performance reflects on the committee, the chairman, or the working group and its recommendations?)

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