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, 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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