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Hack writer

About this blog

This blog records occasional comments affecting hack riders' use of Epsom and Walton Downs, and other opportunities for riding in the neighbouring area.

Meeting, 18 September 2017

Consultative Committee Posted on 18 Sep, 2017 21:38

Derby race meeting: weather had been helpful, but the terrorist incident in Manchester ten days before had heightened concerns for security. The racecourse said the clear-up had been good, and others agreed.

Parking on the grassland (enclosed by Tattenham Corner Road, Langley Vale Road north of the underpass and the racecourse railings): officers would need to look into parking on this area to see whether a problem was occurring. It would be raised with conservators at a future meeting.

Scrub clearance at the top of Rifle Butts Alley: described as a continuing project, where work had been done last winter, and would continue to be done. We asked for clearance to be done around the braided section of the hack ride, and the need for action this winter seemed to be understood.

Hack ride between Burgh Heath Road and Longdown Lane South: we asked for vegetation clearance along the hack ride (mainly low branches) — this will be done as soon as possible.

Hatched area ride: few issues reported to date with riders straying — we said that some indication was needed of limits to the hack ride, and particularly emphasis that there was no other access to the area apart from off Walton Road.

Hack sand track: we said that riders needed to be notified of the poor state of the sand track to avoid potential injuries to horses whose riders are unfamiliar with it. The clerk said that the racecourse was not responsible for the sand track, but the point would be taken to the conservators.

Reinstatement of the afternoon ride at the top of Six Mile Hill: officers said that cutting-back has been done to widen the area, and vehicles are excluded, to help the area regenerate over time. The TGMB proposed to reinstate the railings at the top end, and this was agreed.

Cutting of grass on The Hill: in the past, the limits of the hatched area were marked by distinctive cuts to the grass. Officers said they would look at whether a grass baulk could be left along the boundaries.

Condition of concrete posts: some of the concrete posts along the racecourse were deteriorating and liable to collapse. These would be inspected and dealt with.

Epsom Vision

News Posted on 21 Apr, 2017 09:11

The Epsom Vision leaflet was distributed at the meeting of the board of conservators on 19 April 2017, where I’ve commented on it. I’ve subsequently kindly received an electronic copy courtesy of the racecourse which you can view here. Do take a look, or download the pdf: it’s about promoting Epsom as a centre of training for racing. Why does that matter to hack riders? Because it’s thanks to the racing industry, and the income it generates, that Epsom and Walton Downs are such a superb location for all riders. Take away the racing, and the funding, and the whole of the downs will end up as woodland.

Epsom Vision for racing on Epsom Downs, page 1

Epsom Vision for racing on Epsom Downs, page 2

Epsom Vision for racing on Epsom Downs, page 3

Meeting, 19 April 2017

Conservators Posted on 19 Apr, 2017 17:33

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.

Meeting, 13 March 2017

Consultative Committee Posted on 20 Mar, 2017 08:47

Additional parking outside Rubbing House: we said that any proposals for further parking should be brought first to the consultative committee, and the racecourse agreed.

Staff: interviews shortly for a replacement member of staff.

Afternoon patrols: these were said to be dedicated to addressing incidents of out-of-bounds hack riders. We said they should also address other abuses on the downs, such as kite flying on the hack areas and out-of-control dogs. This seemed to be accepted.

Hack riding maps: a better map is being produced and will be sent to local stables. We suggested that the mailing should be accompanied by an offer of local meetings to help explain the rules for those who found the written explanation too daunting (we offered to help).

Epsom training vision: the racecourse said that training numbers had declined by about half in the last ten years. Epsom needs building up as one of England’s key training areas, and this is what the vision seeks to achieve. Epsom needs to promote greater awareness of its importance in racing, including in the local community, where awareness among recently arrived residents is often low.

Horse margin along Langley Vale Road: resurfacing of the horse margin had been funded by local members’ local budgets and the Training Grounds Management Board (TGMB). We suggested that the hedge screening should also be considered for improvement.

Hack sand track: the board was due to write again to the Horse Race Levy Board (HRLB) setting out the conservators’ position, which was outstanding from the previous meeting (six months ago), having had no response to the previous letter. We were assured that a letter was imminent. The chairman said there was no quick fix, and the board awaited a response to its letter to the HRLB. We pointed out that the track continued to deteriorate in the absence of maintenance, and asked whether anything could be done to keep it in better order in the meantime, particularly in those sections which required only minor attention to keep them useable. However, the conservators were adamant that it would not be appropriate to maintain any part pending resolution of the question of liability.

Parking on Derby Arms triangle: we pointed out that the deposited map requires the retention of pedestrian margins around the triangle when the triangle is allocated for car parking during events.

Hatched area: we said that we were glad to see proposals brought forward by the TGMB, and would work with it to manage issues arising. An opening might be expected after the next TGMB meeting in April, but further work had yet to be done.

Marker posts: an audit of marker posts had been completed and shared with us, with a commitment to undertake various repairs and improvement subject to resources. We said we are happy to discuss how any ambiguities can best be resolved.

Scrub clearance: we asked again for a focus on work to remove scrub where the paths have become braided owing to scrub encroachment and flooding. There was some concern that clearance might make the problem worse, but we thought it could only improve matters. The Lower Mole Countryside Management Service will inspect and advise.

Audit of signs on the downs: this will be brought to a future board meeting (impliedly meaning not coming first to the consultative committee).

Afternoon hack ride on Six Mile Hill: much work has been done, and further flailing will occur. We said more attention needs to be given to preventing hack riders continuing east along Six Mile Hill, as the extension west of the polytrack means the barriers previously present here have been removed.

Downs House triangular area: the board could not afford to hire in cut-and-collect flailing equipment.

Warren wall: concern was express about the condition of the listed wall, and possible damage to the wall by tree growth. It was agreed that one area was of concern, and would be given further attention.

Next meeting: on 18 September 2017.

Meeting, 18 January 2017

Conservators Posted on 18 Jan, 2017 19:28

Apologies: Simon Dow, the trainers’ representative, had tendered apologies for his absence.

Training Grounds Management Board: had met the previous day, but the report related to a meeting in November. The racecourse said the board had voiced concern about the reduced staffing situation on the downs. None of the items in the report was discussed (and therefore, nothing about the proposed access to the hatched area, but see the end of this report).

Hack sand track: officers said that the recorded delivery letter had not yet been sent to the Horse Race Levy Board — the chairman asked for this to be sent as a priority.

Head downskeeper’s report: the head downskeeper was back on duty, but a dowskeeper was on long term sick leave, another leaving, and another on paternity leave. Support was being provided from the council’s ranger service. The chairman asked about the recruitment process, and was told that it would probably take a couple of months. It was observed that substitutes for downskeepers needed to be confident and competent with horses. The racecourse said that the substitute was familiar with working on the downs. The trainers had reported concern about abuse of the training grounds in the afternoon, which was not being addressed owing to the absence of patrols. The head downskeeper said that he had asked staff to do more patrols, including repeat visits to key sites, but there remained many routine functions which could not be omitted. The racecourse explained that the trainers’ concern was stimulated by a report on social media which invited use of the training facilities during the afternoon: officers thought it might be possible to target such postings. The head downskeeper said that barriers used to be placed across the all-weather tracks to prevent use by hack riders, but this was no longer done.

Fees for events: the conservators were asked to approve the revised fees and charges. They did, with negligible comment.

Budget 2017–18: a 2.3% increase in precept from the contributing bodies (the council, the racecourse and the trainers) was proposed. Approved.

Parking in front of Derby Arms: the report proposed to endorse, in principle, the use of the green between Derby Arms Road and Ashley Road for parking for events. The racecourse pointed out that the green had been used for contractor parking during the roofing works, but this had ceased since the works were complete. The chairman asked about the need to use the green: didn’t the racecourse have a car park adjacent to the race track? The racecourse said it was a ‘nicer experience’ to park adjacent to the entrance. A member said that there was adequate parking elsewhere, such as on the grand stand apron. The open space was an important part of the Epsom character. Parking was accepted as a part of the racing calendar, but should not be everyday. The racecourse said it would be used as a genuine overflow for antique fairs and the like, because the hard standing was already full. The Tattenham enclosure was less well drained, and therefore less suitable. Another member agreed, saying parking was untidy. Was the public house concerned about the proposal? The chairman wondered whether pub visitors would also use the parking: the racecourse said the parking would be stewarded. Asked about frequency, the racecourse said 12 antiques fairs each year, and perhaps 6 to 10 other events, but no count had been taken, and the racecourse could not say with precision what frequency was sought in the approval. A member said that if the proposal regularised past use, it should be agreed if there was no material change in use. Officers confirmed that approval was sought only in principle, and there should be further consultation with hack riders and others; the conservators could impose conditions on use if they wished. The racecourse referred to use for Woodland Trust planting, and the chairman pointed out that such visitors were well equipped to use the Tattenham enclosure instead. A member said that consultation should envisage a limit on the number of events. It was agreed that there should be consultation with all members of the consultative committee, and with other members of the public who wanted to be involved. A vote on the recommendation was taken, with five in favour and one abstention. The abstention sought confirmation that the matter would return to the committee after consultation. The chairman would look closely at the wording of the consultation, and a draft would be cleared with the conservators.

Racing season: Racing would take place on:

  • Wednesday 26 April
  • Friday 2 June (Ladies’ Day)
  • Saturday 3 June (Derby Day)
  • Thursday 6 July (Evening)
  • Thursday 13 July (Evening)
  • Thursday 20 July (Evening)
  • Thursday 3 August (Evening)
  • Monday 28 August (Bank Holiday)
  • Tuesday 29 August
  • Thursday 14 September
  • Sunday 1 October

with evenings and Sunday meetings approved by the conservators.

In response to a question, the racecourse said there were fewer meetings than permitted for commercial reasons, as mid-week days had performed poorly. There was no wish to hold meetings on an autumn Monday afternoon, which was the sort of opportunity which remained open. Epsom racecourse was more demanding than at other racecourse, and it was more difficult to get horses to run. The racecourse did not want to run low quality races. The average number of runners in 2016 had risen to 8.9 from 8.2, following elimination of poor performing races.

The racecourse said it had fabricated gates to permit continued equestrian access (outside race days) to the Lonsdale enclosure west of the subway, to avoid the problem with removing fencing panels.

The recommendations were approved.

Signs on the downs: a sign audit had been done, and would be brought to the next meeting.

Hatched area: the racecourse said that the training grounds management board should be commended for drawing up proposals to open the hatched area at certain times.

Meeting, 5 October 2016

Conservators Posted on 05 Oct, 2016 18:01

Polytrack: a new walk in has been created for young horses to access the track at 5 furlongs.

Clear Height Stables: planning permission refused for demolition of stables, as they are thought to have a viable future in racing, but have not been properly marketed as such.

Hack sand track: there has been no response from the Horse Race Levy Board to a letter from the board disclaiming responsibility: this will be chased.

Head downskeeper’s report: increase in recent anti-social behaviour incidents, with an attempt to break into the downskeepers’ hut, and cars being driven over the downs. Two downskeepers are long-term sick, with support being provided from the ranger service. Concern about drawing down support from over-stretched ranger service, and whether this can continue to be provided: there are eight rangers to cover 23 parks. Providing ranger support will impose additional costs on the council.

Mid-year budget monitoring: the working balance continues to diminish, but there was no substantive comment on the in-year budget. The Treasurer had asked for guidance on setting the buget for 2017–18, proposing a 2.35% increase in precepts, which was agreed. [Ed: There was virtually no discussion about the merits of increasing the precept, and no indication of how or whether it could be accommodated in the council’s own budget.]

Events: eight events had been proposed for approval, of which only next year’s Race for Life was significant. One member welcomed the use of the downs, another repeated previously expressed concerns about ‘grass being trodden down’ and litter clearance, noting that the head downskeeper was ill and unable to comment. [Ed: has the member concerned seen the grass trodden down after Derby day?] The events were approved en bloc.

Ice-cream vending: this was not allowed on the downs under byelaws, unless with the consent of the conservators. A regular vendor had asked for permission to trade on the downs, and it was proposed to grant it, subject to not trading before midday, no chimes, and not on racedays. The van would be located in the Hyperion car park off the Old London Road roundabout, or at the milepost car park. The board wanted to impose conditions requiring the provision of litter facilities, and officers agreed to look at whether this could be done through borough licensing conditions.

Metal detecting: this year, the number of licences had been increased from 20 to 25, although only 23 had been purchased. It was agreed to continue to offer 25 licences each year.

Memorial policy: previously, no memorials had been permitted on the downs, but it was noted that the downs offered nowhere to sit down, and the policy should be reviewed. A paper was circulated to allow for this. It proposed to allow up to 12 rustic benches, bird boxes and planted trees. The demand was not thought to be great, and the price could be increased if demand proliferated. One member asked for benches to have a back, to cater for elderly people: this could be added in a natural form; it was also proposed to allow engraving into the wood (i.e. not a plaque): although there was some sympathy for these suggestions, they were rejected. It should be reviewed in one year. [Ed: there was no indication of where these memorials would be placed, and no doubt room can be found for benches, but one wonders what would be an appropriate site for tree planting, given that much effort is put into keeping the downs free of scrub, and trees grow naturally?]

Consultative committee: the minutes of the meeting last week (see my report here) had just arrived from the committee secretary, and the chairman offered to take board members through the highlights, although much had been covered already. Mention was made of the location of the gypsy site, and condition of the afternoon hack ride had been resolved on the tour. Comments were solicited, and a question was asked about dog control signage, and then about:

Parking in Derby Stables Road: a member asked whether parking controls would be put forward in the local committee, and the chairman said it would be quicker for a request to be put forward by the hack riders’ representative rather than through the board. The member suggested she would favour such controls, and welcome a request to the local committee.

Outstanding references: no significant comments.

Dates of next meetings: Wednesday 18 January 2017 at 18.00 hours
Wednesday 19 April 2017 at 18.00 hours
Wednesday 14 June 2017 at 18.00 hours
Wednesday 4 October 2017 at 18.00 hours

Meeting, 26 September 2016

Consultative Committee Posted on 28 Sep, 2016 20:56

Cllr Liz Frost was in the chair of this biannual meeting of the consultative committee.

Hack sand track: officers gave an oral update, to the effect that there was nothing further to report. Officers acting on behalf of the board of conservators had written to the Horse Race Levy Board (HRLB) to confirm that board did not take responsibility for maintenance, but there had been no reply. We asked what was the plan of action? Officers said it was not the board’s responsibility to maintain, and that it was for the HRLB to maintain, as it was on its land, and it had given an undertaking to Parliament to maintain it. It was hoped that there could be a discussion leading to an amicable discussion. The chairman asked that the letter be sent again with delivery confirmed. There was no evidence that responsibility had ever been assigned from the HRLB to the board. We pointed out that there was no incentive on the HRLB to act, and the HRLB needed to feel that it was bound to respond: the board should seek to progress the obligation. We asked what action the board would take to bring the risks of use of the sand track to the attention of hack riders: officers responded that they intended to take no action to warn or protect riders, and officers thought that they could best avoid liability by doing nothing. [Ed: This seems an odd position to take in these supposedly litigious times, which might best be described as ‘burying your head in the sand’.]

Hatched area: the Training Grounds Management Board was said to be re-assessing what could be done with respect to access to the hatched area (a committee had been formed for that purpose). [Ed: The conclusions are awaited with, er, interest.]

Anti-social behaviour: this had been reported at the Mile Post car park, including recklessly dangerous driving, which was a challenge to the downskeepers to address. Police are said to be supportive to tackle the behaviour. Consideration is being given to installing dashboard cameras in downskeepers’ vehicles. It was also suggested that the car park be closed earlier in the shoulders of the summer, when the current closing time is after dusk.

Understaffing of downskeepers’ team: the head downskeeper is off work, and another member of the team will be off work shortly. Some support is being received from the council’s ranger service to cover evening shifts so that there are trained downskeepers in the mornings.

Ashley Road equestrian crossing: new notices have yet to be installed, and installation has been delayed pending a further review of the crossing.

Rubbing House parking: we questioned whether the board supports proposals to increase hard surfacing outside the Rubbing House, and were told it had not been asked to express a view (which seemed surprising). We asked that the consultative committee be consulted on any such proposals in the future. It was expected that the TGMB would review the situation in November.

Derby race meeting: there was general agreement that the clean-up was better this year.

Downs house stables: an application for planning permission for the house is expected first, followed by one for the rest of the site.

Use of hack areas for parking: we pointed out that, traditionally, parking was excluded from the downs by the simple use of barriers across entrances, and these had been left open in recent years. The racecourse said there was a report to the board on parking for the next meeting, although it was unclear whether this would be taken. We criticised the drafting of a report for the board without prior discussion in the committee, despite that subject being on the agenda. Officers said there would be an opportunity to see a proposal before it was taken by the board. [Ed: So some back-peddling there, and a wrong move by the racecourse.]

Afternoon hack ride on Six Mile Hill: we pointed out that the ride had been left in poor condition after works to upgrade the Polytrack, and this would be visited during the downs tour later in the week. [Ed: it was indeed visited, and in a sorry state. Works are promised over the winter to widen the ride, and allow the worst affected part to recover.]

Access to Lonsdale enclosure: we reminded the racecourse that the tacit agreement was to allow access through the Lonsdale enclosure while fencing was in place, on non-race days. The racecourse agreed that the fence should be dismantled outside race days, and this had not happened. The racecourse would welcome advice of any shortcoming. We asked the racecourse to consider installing a lockable gate, to make it easier to regulate access.

Signposting of hatched area: the sign advising of closure of the hatched area has been replaced.

Missing marker posts along valley hack ride below Rubbing House: these will be replaced this winter.

Parking in Derby Stables Road: we asked whether the board could support measures to regulate parking in Derby Stables Road, as it was not otherwise possible to control the display of vehicles for sale. It was agreed that the board would consider this.

Rifle Butts Alley: we asked whether there were plans for further scrub clearance at the top of Rifle Butts Alley, to build on work done the previous winter, but acknowledged that staff shortages might make that impossible this winter. It was hoped to take action during the winter.

Access for horse riders: we addressed a general concern that the extent of areas available to horse riders were gradually being whittled away (such as the sand track, the hatched area, the scrubbed up areas), and what was being done to replace these when they were out of action? Point made.

Signs for dog walkers: it was explained that signs were being torn down. It was proposed to replace them with laminated signs which were cheap to replace. Signs were being amended to require dogs on leads on Sundays only until 0930.

The hatched area

News Posted on 07 Mar, 2016 21:52

This notice has recently appeared east of Walton Road at the foot of Six Mile Hill. It reads: ‘HATCHED AREA CLOSED’. We asked for the sign to be erected. Why? Clearance at top of Rifle Butts Alley

The hatched area appears, duly hatched, on the statutory map deposited in Parliament with the Epsom and Walton Downs Regulation Bill (now the 1984 Act). The map legend explains: “Part of Walton Downs on which riding is permitted after noon if in the opinion of the Training Grounds Management Board conditions allow”. The hatched area extends along much of the bottom of Six Mile Hill, both east and west of Walton Road, below the training grounds, and above the Mac track. Apart from the claimed use of a sliver for occasional training west of Walton Road, it is not maintained for training, and useless for that purpose. But the Board is afraid that, if hack riders are ‘permitted’ to use it, they may stray north onto the training grounds. In 32 years, the Board has never expressed an opinion that conditions do allow, but at almost every Board meeting, it confirms that conditions do not allow. Of course, the Board’s disposition has nothing to do with ‘conditions’, and everything to do with its jealous conservation of the training grounds.

To remind hack riders that the hatched area should be open to riders’ use, at least at certain times, we asked the Board to erect a sign which shows whether ‘conditions allow’. One looks in vain for any simple mechanism on the sign (a sliding board perhaps?) to convert ‘closed’ into ‘open’, but perhaps that isn’t so surprising.

Meeting, 20 January 2016

Conservators Posted on 21 Jan, 2016 07:39

Dog walking: the press release had been published today about the new ‘restrictions’ on dogs, attracting some press attention (see BBC News, illustrated with your blogger’s own photograph!; the Surrey Comet/Epsom Guardian). Some coverage (neither of the two hyperlinked articles) had suggested the restrictions applied all day [Ed: which of course they do, in the presence of any horses, but as expected, this requirement was not mentioned once in discussion]. The council had made much of the private nature of the land [which is technically correct but so is a great deal of land subject to public access: the private character of the owner is immaterial, and the downs have been accessible to the citizens of Epsom since time immemorial.]. One member said there was a misconception that the downs were ‘open access’ [which it is]. The council said that additional ranger resource would be available next week. A comment had been made online about wearing fluorescent clothing, but the training grounds manager said this was worn by 99% of trainers’ staff. Staff would ask those with dogs not on leads to comply. The head downskeeper said there would be problems with some owners; owners for example thought that the rules did not apply in the woods. [Ed: and this is the problem with the conservators’ approach — it imposes a blanket ban (during the morning) throughout the downs, even where no horses ever go. It’s hard to enforce a rule when at times it just doesn’t make sense.

Queen’s Stand crossing: the Training Grounds Management Board had approved a budget of £100 to improve signage in the vicinity of the crossing.

Tattenham Corner Road crossing for pedestrians: the highway authority had no money to fund improvements, but was willing to provide design and construction work.

Habitat management plan: work had been commissioned on the combined habitat management plan (i.e. incorporating the golf course).

Walton Road resurfacing: the highway authority had visited Walton Road and expressed ‘reasonable satisfaction’ with the resurfacing works and road humps.

Winter work programme: The winter work programme had enabled work to be done to cut back scrub at Riflebutts Alley, Langley Vale and Middle Hill. Work had also been done to ‘refurbish’ the hack ride and area marker posts.

Review of fees for events on downs: reviewed fees and potentially refundable charges were agreed for events on the downs, including a shift to a daily rate. Officers pointed out that the downs were not a formal events venue, and the conservators decided not to pursue specific annual increases in fees.

Metal detecting licences: the issue of licences has moved online, and availability will close once the ceiling of 20 licences has been reached. The fee will increase from £35 to £40 in 2017. Licences had been sought from all over the south-east. One member asked why the ceiling was apparently low: it was explained that the ceiling had originally been imposed because of the attractiveness of the downs for metal detecting. The licence allowed licencees to excavate (subject to rules about reinstatement). The head downskeeper said that enforcement was sometimes problematic, with licencees straying outside the designated area [the designated area being, in effect, the hack areas]. A vague desire to raise the ceiling to raise additional funds and enable greater activity emerged as a joint proposal to increase the number of licences by five but to amend the licence to permit revocation in the event of a breach of the rules.

Budget 2016–17: a 4% increase in the precept was agreed, in the following shares — Borough Council: £222,770; Epsom Downs Racecourse: £111,380; Epsom & Walton Downs Training Board: £37,130 — a total budget of £371,280.

Racing season and fencing works: the usual extensions to the term of fencing permitted under the 1984 Act were approved. There will be a music night only on 30 June this year. The racecourse observed that the Lonsdale enclosure should ensure a means of access is retained for walkers and horse riders in and out while it was in place.

Hack sand track: the acting clerk said that although an assurance had been given at the previous meeting that a report would be available for this meeting, none was available, and one was promised for the following meeting.

Top of Rifle Butts Alley

News Posted on 26 Nov, 2015 15:46

Officers and downskeepers have scheduled work over the winter of 2015–16 to clear some of the scrub from the top of Rifle Butts Alley (bridleway 66 from Burgh Heath Road). This will improve access for all users between the bridleway and the hack ride along the north perimeter of the golf course and the downs. Work is planned to include improving access along the hack ride itself, where scrub encroachment, by excluding the sun and wind, has caused the track to become waterlogged in wet weather.

Under the Epsom and Walton Downs Regulation Act 1984, all of the land north of the hack ride (between the hack ride and the boundary fence) is designated a hack area — even the area used as a green waste tip — so some clearance here is welcome thanks.

Clearance at top of Rifle Butts Alley

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