David Smith, former chief executive of the council and ex officio clerk to the conservators, will retire shortly, and not return to the council after a prolonged absence owing to ill health. From David’s point of view, it’s surely the right decision. Best wishes to David in his retirement, and our thanks for his tremendous help over the years, and his readiness to listen to hack riders’ views.

Leaflet for hack riders: the final version of this is still not resolved, and the version which appears (well hidden) on the council’s website remains somewhat unsatisfactory.

Events on the downs: there will be two windows of opportunity to apply for approval of events each year, but the number of events will be limited in number. The criteria will be addressed in a paper to be taken by the 28th July meeting of conservators. The conservators are contemplating charging for cleaning up after events (thanks to the rubbish left after this year’s Race for Life): I asked for refundable deposits to be considered, to avoid an adverse impact on small events.

Ebbisham Lane: the continuing poor state of the road will be raised with Surrey county council’s new local highway engineer. The council has done no maintenance on the road for years.

Sand track: claimed to be harrowed once a week, but it had been neglected during the Derby season. Investigating machinery to pick flints. There’s a willingness to top up the sand, but structural problems need to be resolved before this is done.

Byelaw boards: funding for these is unlikely to be resolved until at least September, and until then, officers are unwilling to commit to the style and content. I asked if they could work up some designs to minimise delay once funding was confirmed later this year.

Enforcement of byelaws: two new downskeepers are being recruited, after which the rotas will be reviewed in consultation with staff: they plan to present options for better enforcement of byelaws on Sunday afternoons to the next but one conservators’ meeting (even though they promised at the meeting exactly a year ago to do just that). Agreed to consider scope to make byelaw to control cycling on the downs, since the conservators have already agreed to amend the byelaws to deal with radio-controlled (model) cars.

Concert: no (pay for entry) concert is likely to take place for the next two or three years, owing (it was said) to the recession.

Dog control: Epsom and Ewell council is working with other Surrey boroughs to develop a county-wide strategy on dog control, with a small number of essential messages to be put across to dog owners. They will consider whether a dog control order is needed for the downs, to enforce a requirement for dogs on leads. Will be considered further at 28th July conservators’ meeting. Meanwhile, downskeepers’ vehicles are now equipped with cameras, microphones and trackers, to record incidents and provide greater protection for staff dealing with them.

Metal detecting: officers will send a revised map showing the areas authorised at for metal detecting (which we suspect coincide almost exactly with the hack areas), and say they will take seriously any concerns expressed in response.

Hatched area: We had asked the secretary to the Training Grounds Management Board, Andrew Cooper, how conditions had changed since the concessionary use of the hatched area was negotiated in 1984? No-one could recall that far back (pity David Smith has left), although Andrew goes back to 1993. The rough area east of Walton Road was described as being in as bad physical condition as it ever has been, and unfit for use. The area west of Walton Road is maintained by grounds staff and used for racehorse training in winter: the TGMB’s view is that use by hack riders would make it unfit for training use — but that’s putting the cart before the horse.

We had also asked what conditions would now permit such use? Andrew avoided answering this question, but Simon Dow said he would be happy to adopt clear criteria for determining whether the hatched area should be available for use.

And we asked who was responsible for maintaining the area to secure conditions fit for use? The TGMB said they were not responsible for maintaining the east area — that was for the downskeepers, who were responsible for cutting the area under the Habitat Management Plan.

The TGMB had met that very morning and reaffirmed its position.

In a continuing discussion a little later, the chairman (and chairman of the conservators) Jean Smith said that the “purpose of the 1984 Act is the preservation of the racing industryâ€. That is doubtless her view, and it explains why the conservators act as a rubber stamp for the racecourse, but it’s clearly not the purpose of the Act, which appoints the conservators to “preserve the Downs so far as possible in their natural state of beauty”. Maintaining a successful industry is certainly a proper economic objective for the council, but it’s not why the council tax payers of Epsom fund the conservators to the tune of nearly £200k per annum.

Date of next meeting: 3 November 2009

Date of downs tour: 24 August 2009