The Operational Manager introduced the report on maintenance works and future proposals at the Hill Garden and Pergola. He highlighted that a decade of repair works had been carried out in cooperation with the City Surveyor’s Department and that the photographs appended to the report gave a good impression of what had been achieved. The repair works had also made it possible to give serious consideration to the use of the Pergola as a venue for marriages and civil ceremonies.
The Superintendent provided the committee with further background on the use of the Pergola for marriages and civil ceremonies. He noted that this had been an aspiration in the management plan but had been a relatively low priority. Nevertheless the City of London had been proactively approached by the Superintendent Registrar for Camden who was very supportive of the use of the Pergola for ceremonies. The Superintendent Registrar had confirmed that requirements for toilet facilities and an interview room could be met using adjacent facilities such as the café in Golders Hill Park.
In light of the strong support from Camden for an application to be submitted, the Superintendent noted that the question was now to decide on the appropriate balance between the number of ceremonies conducted, in light of the potential for revenue, versus the wish to ensure the Pergola remained open to the public. He informed the committee that this would be among a range of issues considered in a report that would go to the January 2014 meeting of the committee. He concluded by noting that the Hampstead Heath Business Manager had been on a fact-finding visit to Hylands Park Chelmsford to observe best practice in conducting ceremonies in public open space, and he further underlined the potential for much needed revenue arising from the use of the venue for ceremonies.
In response to a question from Colin Gregory, the Superintendent clarified the likely impact of ceremonies on public access. He noted that ceremonies would be restricted to a particular area of the Pergola and that the wider site would remain open to the public. Furthermore, only ceremonies rather than receptions would be permitted, which would dispense with the need to provide large temporary structures like marquees, and that any smaller structures associated with the ceremonies would be constructed and dismantled within two hours. He took the opportunity also to comment on the likely frequency of ceremonies, noting that the Business Manager’s research indicated that two weekly ceremonies and two weekends of ceremonies per month was likely to be the maximum.
In response to remarks from Ian Harrison that a similar proposal put forward by English Heritage for Kenwood House had been poorly thought through and communicated, with little information on costs and projected revenue and predicted impact on public access provided, the Superintendent assured the committee that these issues would be addressed in the January 2014 report. He noted that, judging from the market, people were prepared to pay for the uniqueness of location for ceremonies. He highlighted the example of the high level walkway at Tower Bridge at which each ceremony provided excellent revenue generation.
In response to questions from Ian Harrison over the potential for receptions to be held in the Spaniards Road side of the Hill Garden, and access for vehicles, the Superintendent replied that the Corporation would exercise caution on permitting receptions to take place, and that vehicular access would not be permitted. Instead attendees would have to make use of the nearby off-site car park at Jack Straw’s Castle. It was mooted that brides could use bespoke transport to access the venue, such as carriages.
Richard Sumray noted that he was very supportive of the proposal and emphasised the need for clarity on the issues involved in the January 2014 report.