Good turn-out, with apologies from Simon Dow and Nick Harrison.
Minutes: an objection was made that the disquiet expressed by Epsom Civic Society at the previous meeting with the code of conduct notice boards was not recorded.
Flattening of Tattenham Straight: these works were well underway. We asked about the enclosure of the area between the Lonsdale Stand and the subway: why was the whole area closed off? It was hoped to remove the fencing as soon as possible, once the reseeding had shown to have taken. The whole area was fenced off because it was a pragmatic continuation of racing fencing arrangements (Ed: in other words, it was cheaper, even though it means unnecessarily closing off part of the downs for months. Funny how that wasn’t mentioned in the fencing approval request).
Tarred surface to Walton Road: we asked which downs users groups were recorded as showing ‘general satisfaction’ with the tarred surface to Walton Road, the assertion having been made at the recent board meeting, while the hack riders’ dissatisfaction was not recorded. The racecourse explained that it had intended to refer to the trainers’ support. Our request for a correction to the board minutes to be suggested to the next board meeting was frostily ‘noted’. The chairman said that various downs users had expressed enthusiasm during the board’s downs tour (Ed: we weren’t invited, so we can’t dispute that: no doubt many hack riders come to the downs for the excellent network of tarred roads.)
Cycling byelaw: the byelaw has not been confirmed by the Secretary of State, but will now be submitted for formal approval. The code of conduct signs will contain a map with the authorised routes; there is also a map on the website.
Code of conduct signs and byelaw signs: it was asked when the byelaw signs would be replaced, in view of the expected confirmation of the new byelaw. An audit had been completed of the signs on the downs, which had noted 147 of various kinds. Once the byelaw was confirmed, the other signs would be ‘looked at’. The board would need to look at the style of the byelaw boards, but not the content, which would be largely unchanged. However, it was observed that progress could have been made on this sooner, and that the byelaws could not be enforced under the Act, and by the downskeepers, without up-to-date notices.
Control of rabbit population: we asked what had been done since the last meeting to consider rabbit control on the hatched area. Officers had not yet looked at it.
Gardens backing on to the downs: this related to letters sent to residents of Rosebery Road, some of whom had been mowing the land outside their gardens, and in some cases, encroaching onto it. We suggested that owners should not be discouraged from maintaining the land outside their gardens, as this was hack area, and maintenance by adjoining owners was better than none by the board or racecourse. We also asked what was being done to address encroachment? Officers would look to see what further scrub could be removed, and planned to preserve existing areas of grassland. The racecourse would check that it had registered title to the land.
Winter work programme: we welcomed the ambitious winter work programme to cut back rides, and nominated another, at the top of Longdown Lane South and Burgh Heath Road, where visibility for horse riders heading uphill across the road was very poor.
Constitution of the Consultative Committee: we put forward proposals for reform, including circulating papers going to the board to consultative committee fifteen days in advance of the board meeting, with the board papers incorporating any comments made, and circulating draft minutes of the consultative committee to the committee by email for comment, before they were given to the board. Needless to say, the first proposal met with a firm rebuff from the clerk, who did not wish officers to prepare papers any earlier, whether for circulation by email or for prior consultative committee meetings. (Ed: in other words, anything but consulting the consultative committee, which should remain politely obedient until called upon to speak, occasionally.) A more formal membership of the committee was proposed, but referred for further discussion and prospective agreement by four of us.
Walton Road, use by carriage drivers: a tense discussion in which no-one from the racecourse, the downskeeepers nor the conservators admitted to knowing who was responsible for erecting the barriers along Walton Road, the clerk said that the conservators had no locus to require the removal of the barriers (Ed: so it looks like this is about the only thing which the clerk says the conservators don’t have any power to do, whereas the clerk conjures powers to do anything else, such as charging for events or closing the Hill for 14 days for concerts, out of thin air. Odd that.), and the chairman wrung her hands. It was more or less admitted that the barriers were illegal — but the board wasn’t willing to do anything about it, and we’d have to raise it with Surrey Highways (Ed: which of course isn’t resourced to do anything, anywhere, at any time). We said the alternative was for us to apply to record Walton Road as a byway open to all traffic (which would mean the Road would be shown on Ordnance Survey maps as a public right of way apparently open to motor traffic, promoting use by motor cyclists), which would then enable us to serve notice under section 130A of the Highways Act 1980 to require the removal of the illegal obstructions. We asked, and it was agreed, to present on the alternatives to the next board meeting.
Hack sand track: a report was said to be under preparation for the next board meeting.
Charging for events: we asked about how the conservators purported to be able to charge for events on the downs. The clerk noted that there was no power in the Act to charge for events, but nor was there any prohibition. (Ed: this extraordinary view, that the board as a statutory body could assume powers to charge where none exists in the statute, is the basis of the charging policy. So if you’re planning a large event on the downs, you might like to see your lawyers first.)
Golf club proposal: we noted that the proposed surfaced path would potentially encroach on the hack ride at Longdown Lane South, and were assured it would not: the full width of the track would remain available at the junction with Burgh Heath Road.
Hack ride on south side of Downs House enclosure: officers agreed to look again at the encroachment, which, along with barriers placed on the grass adjacent to the track, means that the full width of 12m has been reduced to about 2m.
Marking of hack rides: agreed to meet with officers and downskeepers to discuss marking strategy.
Dog worrying: a member suggested putting notices about dog control on the downs at local vets, dog parlours and other places where dog owners congregate. It was agreed to put this to the next board meeting.
Next meeting: to be agreed by email, probably in early April.