A bumper agenda which meant the meeting lasted two and three quarter hours.
TGMB: Andrew Cooper was not present, but it was reported that ground conditions did not permit the hatched area to be opened up. Increased income from horses in training allowed investment in some of the horse walks and railings.
Dog control: nothing further was reported.
Downskeepers’ hut: the council’s in-house surveyor was looking at options to make the hut more environmentally sustainable, as there is no money to replace it, and the heating costs are excessive.
Funding: at mid-year, the budget is heading for a modest Â£40k overspend, apparently owing to overtime incurred during race meetings, which the board hopes to recover from the racecourse. The chairman asked whether the Tattenham Corner Road toilets were disability-compliant, which they aren’t, though no particular action was contemplated. Discussion moved on to the budget for 2011-12, in the context of the Spending Review. The racecourse said that funds raised by the Horserace Betting Levy had fallen by half, and there had been a substantial reduction in income from sponsorship and media: the racecourse could not sustain an increase in its contribution to the board, any more than the council. It was suggested that staff could be employed by the board (rather than the council) which could achieve VAT savings, or be integrated with the council’s grounds maintenance service. Support from council officers could be reduced either nominally or in real terms (currently, all work done by officers is recharged), and work done during race meetings and other events could be recharged to the racecourse. It was noted that the downs were a specialist environment, where downskeepers were expected to have knowledge and training to look after horses in training. The treasurer was asked to look at all the possibilities and provide a more detailed report to the January meeting. [Editor’s note: I’d guess that the treasurer was looking to pare down the options for study, so that he could concentrate on those which were likely to be favoured, but no such luck.] In response to a question, Bob Harding said that he had two staff on work duties and four on patrol. [Editor’s note: demonstrating that two-thirds of the staff resource, and much else besides, are primarily deployed to look after horses in training.] A suggestion was made to introduce pay-and-display parking, and it was agreed this should be looked at too.
Race for life: there was continuing concern about litter left after the event. The racecourse will manage the race for life next year, and was keen to ensure that the costs of the clean-up were covered. Conditions can now be imposed to require a bond for reinstatement.
Sand track: concern was expressed that stone-picking and harrowing was having little effect: it was agreed that it did improve the surface, but it needed a more comprehensive solution. A quote had been received for work to upgrade the sand track, costed at Â£15-Â£23k, and two further quotes would be sought. Discussions continued with the Horserace Levy Board to further understand the history of the sand track, and how its initial provision was funded. There would then be a further discussion between officers on how to take forward. The quote was described by the chairman as ‘not very good news’. One member asked whether the hack riders could make a contribution, while another member asked if the non-contributory principle for hack riding on the downs could be reviewed, or whether it might be possible not to provide the sand track at all? Another member pointed out that it would be difficult to collect contributions from a large number of yards and riders. It was suggested that the issue be considered at the forthcoming consultative committee meeting.
Damaged downs furniture: the racecourse suggested that, if asked, its maintenance team could be ready to carry out repairs to furniture damaged during race meetings.
Warning signs on Walton Road: some of the several signs at the foot of Six Mile Hill will be removed, it being acknowledged that there are too many.
Training incident: on Saturday, a local athletics club started to train alongside one of the main tracks. One of the coaches, informed that this was undesirable, declined to respond to advice given, and demonstrated an intention to continue regardless, leading to lengthy and Ugandan on-site discussions. The Leisure Developments Manager has since spoken to the chairman of the club, and been assured that it won’t happen again: an alternative suitable site will be suggested for morning training. The next edition of Borough Insight will contain an article about the downs, addressing questions of potential conflict.
Epsom Live! concerts: this year’s concerts had led to various incidents, including damage, rowdy behaviour, barbecues etc. A written complaint had been received from a local resident. Neighbouring property had been damaged. Officers had met with the racecourse to discuss the problem, with a meeting planned with the police on 3 November to explore potential mitigation of the impact of the concerts: it was suggested that it might be desired to reduce the number of people on the Hill. The racecourse said that the race meetings were not viable without the concerts: it did not wish to encourage people onto the Hill, but could not restrict people from using the downs, although it could (for example) restrict the view. It was taking a number of initiatives to discourage use of the downs at such times (though further examples were not given). The racecourse suggested it might want to review the 1984 Act to give it greater flexibility to control access. Litter pickers were sent out on the following day to deal with litter. One member criticised Chinese lanterns being released, and suggested that stewards should have taken action: the racecourse said legal clarification was needed as it wasn’t necessarily open to the racecourse stewards to put a stop to it. Bins had been put out, but they had been knocked over. There had been large numbers of young teenagers attending, who lacked responsibility. There was no police presence at any of the events. It was noted that a report would follow to the next board meeting following officers’ meeting with the police and racecourse.
Cycle routes on the downs: Two potential routes to be designated for cycling (under the proposed new byelaw) were discussed, as we had not been able to agree their exclusion with the cyclists’ representative (although there had been a broad measure of agreement on most of the routes). The trainers’ representative supported exclusion of the route past Downs House, criticised unofficial use of routes by cyclists across Six Mile Hill, which was scarring the grassland, and said that a policy for enforcement was needed to make clear what would be tolerated: the new byelaw would officially authorise horses encountering cyclists, and how would it deal with situations where cyclists might be expected to wait rather than push on? Another member asked whether the exclusion of the Downs House route and the route to the south of the Downs House enclosure would make abuse more likely? It should be stated on maps and signs that cycling on grassland was illegal (under the proposed byelaw). One route, between Longdown Road North golf club house and Burgh Heath Road (Wendover Stables), was agreed for designation as recommended, and another, descending Downs House Road to the valley path, was agreed not to be designated, but it was suggested that the foliage should be cut back on the first route. The map of authorised cycle routes was therefore approved.
Byelaws: it was agreed not to proceed with the model car byelaw, as there had been no recent complaints about nuisance (and there was a general byelaw to address nuisances), but to proceed with the cycling byelaw subject to the agreement of the consultative committee. There was a question over whether to wait until new legislation might remove the requirement to submit byelaws to the Secretary of State for confirmation, but it was agreed to proceed immediately.
Hatched area: a report was noted explaining the origin of the provision for hack use of the hatched area, and how maintenance responsibility might be attributed. The report said that there was no specific allocation of responsibility, although the Habitat Management Plan commended a cut of the grass once each year in thirds. The recommendation, that this existing maintenance regime be continued, was agreed without substantive debate. The racecourse said that part of the hatched area was used each winter from January to March for training use.
Events on the downs: a late paper was circulated. Some events were imminent, and there was concern that there was inadequate notice if the board wished to reject a proposal. The trainers’ representative said that many tracks were unable to support intensive use without causing damage, and it was important that events adhered to the designated routes; there had been agreement to impose a ceiling on the number of events. One member said none of the events contributed to the upkeep of the downs, and suggested that none of the proposals should be allowed (this notwithstanding that the board had already agreed limits). Amid much confusion over what was being decided, the Epsom College cross-country events, which were close to the winter gallops (which would just have opened), just slipped through on the basis that the applications had been pending since the spring. The 26.2 Road Running Club proposal for 165 runners, and the Epsom Oddballs Club for 600 runners, were refused (no particular reason given, although the trainer’s representative noted the oddity of the road running club wanting to run on the downs, and some account was taken of for how long each event had taken place on the downs). The Sponsored Poppy Walk (October 2011) was criticised as having a disproportionate impact with 2,500 walkers, and it was suggested that the Race for Life (June 2010) and the Poppy Walk were too big to both be allowed to take place (even though they are four months apart): how should such a decision be taken? The Race for Life was agreed in principle (with two members voting against), and the Poppy Walk was approved, with vague talk of a more discerning approach to be taken next year.
Gypsy site: a report had been prepared by the clerk about the provision of a gypsy site during the Derby festival, amid concerns about the site’s management and impact. It was suggested that the board should take account of the likelihood of incursions elsewhere in the borough, if no site were provided, and the costs this would impose. Advice was to continue to provide a site but with tighter management through the imposition of conditions and better liaison with the temporary site manager. This was agreed, with the outcome to be reviewed the following year. A question was asked about whether the site charge of Â£80 covered the costs of the subsequent clear-up, but it was noted that the charge was reviewed each year, and could be increased if justified.
Ebbisham Lane: a report of issues arising from the meeting of the consultative committee was noted, but the discussion as to the possibility of a repair notice for the maintenance of Ebbisham Lane was not reported.
Extension of Derby fencing period: the extension granted last year had been questioned by the Epsom Protection Society, which had asked for a legal view on the powers, and the clerk asked what line the board would like her to take? It was agreed she would not give advice on past decisions, and that each decision was considered on its merits, but that future decisions should be related to the relevant part of the 1984 Act.
Cycling on bridleway 146: (bridleway alongside Langley Vale Road), signs restricting cycling had been removed as inconsistent with its status. The clerk would write to the council to clarify the status.
Comprehensive map of the downs: an updated version was circulated in A0 format. It was questioned whether the map should be adopted for the notice boards, or whether a more legalistic map was necessary to accord with the requirements of the 1984 Act. The board agreed that this map was preferred, but the Leisure Development Manager said she would seek further legal advice on its use for this purpose.
Use of motorised trolleys on golf course: the golf club had asked for the current limit of five to be abolished. The golf club has volunteered that no requests had been refused because of the ceiling, and so it was agreed to raise the ceiling to a maximum of ten.
Disabled parking facility: this had been requested by the model aircraft club, for the junction of Walton Road and Downs House Road. It was asked how use would be restricted, and what enforcement was envisaged? The arrangement would be monitored by the downskeepers.
Date of next meeting: 27 January 2011.