TGMB: met in early March, with “little to report” to the Board, and no “fresh information” to change its view on use of the hatched area. A letter from Pat Phelan was circulated, trainer at Ermyn Lodge (time was given for members to read this). It is proposed to use a new return route to the London Road crossing for horses in training on Six Mile Hill through the woodland at the top of the Hill: some clearance would be needed. It was suggested that a decision should be deferred to seek the hack riders’ views, but Simon Dow said that a decision was needed urgently because it was a safety issue: there would be no impact on hack riders’ rights, and hack riders would be allowed to use the route at other times (presumably, as a de facto afternoon route). Bob Harding, the head downskeeper, noted that there might be a problem with dogs exercised in the woods. It was decided to allow the chairman to make a decision after consultation with the consultative committee members, because the “conservators didn’t want a complaint that they had done something without consulting the [hack riders].”
Access from Tattenham Corner Station to the Downs: Andrew Cooper for the racecourse was firmly opposed to improvements to the crossing of the racecourse at Tattenham Corner Road, because this would mean sacrificing about a metre of the turf. Walking on the grass was not the answer. Safety concerns were acknowledged, but the conservators â€œhad to accept that the racecourse said it couldn’t be doneâ€. It was suggested that part of the carriageway should be taken instead, but the highway authority did not consider it as an accident blackspot, although the suggestion would be put to it.
Dog control: nothing to report, as the lead officer, Sam Whitehead, was away ill. Simon Dow said there was a serious incident the previous day, with a horse chased and brought down by a small white terrier (the rider was OK, but the horse was injured). The clerk would discuss with Sam on her return. There was mention of a new byelaw (which rather ignores the previous advice about dog control orders). The chairman said that:”the principle thing is to avoid accidents to the horses.” Simon Dow thought it was important to put something in place, even if it did not take effect for some years: e.g. no dog off a lead during training hours; the racecourse thought a new byelaw would show intent. But the head downskeeper warned that new rules would be hard to enforce, and routine enforcement could distract downskeepers from dealing with more imminent hazards, and create confrontation with some dog keepers. One conservator suggested designating part of the downs dog-free, and others contributed their concerns about the situation (although the focus was entirely on the threat to horses in training and the training industry). Leaflets and signs were preaching to the converted: education would be better. But there was strong support for better signage, and comparison was made to Richmond Park. Comment was made that breaches of the byelaws were never prosecuted. It was noted that there was a power to make byelaws, and the board decided that it wished to proceed with seeking a new byelaw (though there was no discussion of what that byelaw might say, or how it would improve on the current byelaw, or whether a new byelaw would be approved in view of the move towards dog control orders).
Onward rides from the downs: agreed to remove from the action list, since there was no prospect of action by the highway authority.
Downskeepers’ hut: still no developments, which was generally agreed to be unsatisfactory.
Maintenance of hack sand track: again, no news, because the clerk had been on holiday. Andrew noted that there was an agreement at the time the sand track was put in relating to its maintenance, but it had not been found. He said it was in extremely poor condition, and unuseable in parts. It would take significant work and money to put right. A proposal was sought for the next meeting.
Ebbisham Lane: removed from the action list, as highway authority unwilling to act.
Jogger affects rider: a jogger unsettled a horse and rider in training near the downskeeper’s hut, which has been reported in the local Guardian. The rider was dismounted shortly afterwards, and was taken to hospital. It was agreed that the downskeepers should be able to attend further horse awareness training to help in attending such incidents.
Friends of Epsom and Walton Downs: a smaller turnout, but a successful day, shortly before Easter.
The Warren Wood track between Walton Road and Grosvenor Road, and the track between Wendover Stables and the golf club house, have both been cleared of vegetation, following “recent events”, which were described as simply the winter routine.
Damage to bridleway 65/66: contractors have been hired to restore damage caused by farm traffic (but it hasn’t been done yet).
Old London Road: was shut temporarily the previous day (“with the trainers’ agreement”) for some resurfacing funded by the racecourse. The highway authority disclaim responsibility for maintenance, but the racecourse says that the borough council is liable to repair. Confirmation is being sought.
Events on the downs: Two charitable events were proposed for approval. Simon Dow complained that the routes were in practice sometimes set out on the downland, and in any case the impact of, say, 800 people running down these routes would inevitably cause spread onto the grass. A conservator suggested that an event of this kind would attract a similar number of cars. The board decided to refuse the Fix event on the grounds of adverse impact, but accepted that the Tadworth Athletic Club event was well established, and suggested that there should be further discussion with the organisers as to the route to keep it away from the gallops. Simon Dow also asked that the Race for Life should be made aware that the set-up time conflicted with the times during which horses would be in training (the racecourse said that the scale of promotion suggested that there would be a very large turn-out this year, although it was said that the number of participants had been firmly limited to 5,000).
[Editor’s note: are these the same downs which host the Epsom Derby, with a crowd of over 100,000, and with another 13 race meetings this year? Is this the same board which approved plans for a commercial two day concert in the middle of the downs in 2009, attracting an audience of 50,000 over the weekend? To be fair, the Fix event would be in October, when the ground is less able to recover, but it was far from clear that this consideration drove the decision: it wasn’t even mentioned.]
Applications for extension of racing period: Covered in the report, but no mention was made of the approval issued since the last meeting.
Date of next meeting: 21 June.