Agenda item

Superintendent's Update

The Superintendent of Hampstead Heath to be heard.



Ponds Project Meeting – City of London Corporation and Heath & Hampstead Society

Before inviting the Superintendent to provide his Update to the Committee, the Chairman took the opportunity to note he had just attended a meeting between the City of London Corporation and the Heath & Hampstead Society that had been scheduled at the Society’s request. Amongst those present at the meeting were Lord Hoffman, Tony Hillier and Helen Marcus from the Society and the Chairman of the City’s Policy & Resources Committee.


He described the position of the Society at the meeting as one of surprise that the City of London was pressing ahead regardless with the Ponds Project without testing its legal basis. It appeared that the Society now favoured a “Part 8” approach - as an alternative to a Judicial Review - they considered thiswould allow the legal position to be clarified before works were carried out on the dams.


The Chairman noted that the City of London’s obligations under the Reservoirs Act 1975 and the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 raise complex issues but nonetheless the City of London was of the view that it had a duty as a responsible dam owner to carry out works on the dams, and that these works would be carried out with the best interests of the Heath in mind. He said that the City of London had no intention to spend £15million on the Ponds Project unless it felt it was necessary to do so; to ensure the safety of the dams and to prevent loss of life in the event of a major storm event. He concluded by noting that the Society would be submitting a minute of the meeting to the City of London for comment.


In response to an observation from Richard Sumray that it would be useful if the correspondence between the City of London and the Society be shared with the Committee, the Chairman agreed to consider whether this would be possible, subject to the agreement of both the City of London and the Society.


Jeremy Wright noted that the Society had indeed invited the City of London to join them in a Part 8 ‘friendly action’ to determine the legal issues involved in the Ponds Project. He informed the Committee that the City of London had replied to the Society’s approach noting that it ‘saw virtue’ in such an action, but had then gone on to raise several procedural questions which would take time for the Society to consider and respond to. The Chairman confirmed that the City of London had raised several queries concerning the approach suggested by the Society – it would be interested to learn, for example, what parties the Society foresaw as being involved in the Part 8 action – and the City of London looked forward to receiving answers to its queries. 


Colin Gregory said that it was desirable that the issue could be resolved in a friendly way, and went on to ask how flexible the City of London considered the Ponds Project timetable to be. In response, the Chairman replied that the City of London was proceeding with deliberate speed. He added that a pure statutory interpretation of the City of London’s obligations regarding the dams was not the main driver of the Ponds Project. The City of London was proceeding with the Ponds Project based both on the legal advice it had received and its responsibility as a dam owner where a risk of dam failure had been identified.


Ellin Stein commented that the City of London needed to do more to ensure the wider public was informed that the aim of flood alleviation was to prevent the dams overtopping.


Ian Harrison returned to the Chairman’s comments regarding the City of London’s approach to the Ponds Project, and said he was surprised that the Chairman appeared to be saying the City of London regarded the legislation as secondary. He stated that it was important that the approach underpinning the Ponds Project should be to do only what was strictly necessary to ensure the safety of the dams.


The Chairman clarified that he was not saying that the legislation was regarded as secondary – the City of London had been informed throughout the project process by the Reservoirs Act 1975 and the Flood and Water Management Act 2010.


Ian Harrison developed his point by saying that the City of London needed to take alternative interpretations of the City of London’s obligations seriously. Whilst he felt that the approach adopted by the Dam Nonsense campaign was unfortunate, he urged the City of London to try and reach consensus with the Heath & Hampstead Society on the legal issue at hand, given the differences between their two respective positions did not seem that great. He concluded by saying that, to date, the City of London had given the impression that they believed they had the right legal answers and that any person, organisation or society that expressed views to the contrary was simply ‘kicking up a fuss’, and such an impression was similarly unfortunate. He said that if the Part 8 approach was felt to be sensible, it should be pursued.


The Superintendent added that he had attended a meeting of senior City of London officers recently at which it had been agreed that it would be useful to release correspondence between the City of London and the Heath & Hampstead Society to give context to the discussions that had taken place regarding the legal position on the City of London’s obligations.


Hampstead Heath Ponds Project Information Sharing and Consultation Process

The Superintendent updated the Committee on the ongoing Ponds Project Information Sharing and Consultation Process. He noted that over 3,000 visits had been made to the consultation exhibition in Parliament Hill Staff Yard/East Heath exhibition Stand and that over 80,000 postcards giving information on the project had been despatched to local households. Overall, he noted that the aim of the process was to provide as much information as possible on what was a complex project across to the general public.


Planning – The Water House

The Superintendent reported that he had attended a difficult meeting with officers at the London Borough of Camden in the last week at which it had become clear that the planning application concerning The Water House had not been processed very effectively, in that Camden planning officers seemed to have only considered information submitted by the Applicant, and none at all that had been submitted by other parties.


In response to a question from Richard Sumray, the Superintendent confirmed that the City of London had expressed concerns to Camden over whether this instance was site-specific or part of a wider corporate attitude, and that if it proved to be the latter then it had been made clear that the City of London would raise the issue with senior officers and elected members at Camden. Richard Sumray added that if it was indeed the latter instance then local societies, including those represented upon the Committee, should similarly make their concerns known with Camden. The Superintendent confirmed that to date no elected members in Camden were aware of the City of London’s concerns and moreover the issue would be pursued with Camden, subject to any forthcoming response, during the week commencing 27 January 2014.


Planning – Athlone House

The Superintendent noted that a representation had been submitted by the City of London against the planning application made to Camden regarding Athlone House. He warned the Committee that the application process was likely to be a long one, and that it was likely the Applicant would seek to make their application more acceptable to Camden planning officers by making small adjustments to the proposed building footprint. Michael Hammerson commented that the Superintendent’s assessment was likely to be proved correct, based on similar impressions given to local societies who were engaged in making representations against the application.


Southern Counties Cross-Country Championships – 25 January 2014

The Superintendent noted that Cross Country Championships would be taking place on the Heath on the coming weekend and that complaints were expected over the effect these would have on the ground surface of the Heath. He confirmed that remedial works would be undertaken to repair any damage and that moreover the Heath would recover through natural processes. Richard Sumray added that the Greater London Cross Country Championships held on the Heath in November 2013 had been a success.


National Grid Works

The Superintendent noted that issues had arisen over the gas main near the Education Centre at the Hampstead Heath Lido, in that previous works had failed to deal with recurrent leaks. Subsequent investigative work had revealed that a pipe seal was broken, and the National Grid was in the process of repairing this.