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, 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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