Report of the Superintendent of Hampstead Heath.
The Director of the Remembrancer’s Affairs introduced a report of the Superintendent of Hampstead Heath on Open Spaces Legislation. He explained that the City Corporation proposed to submit a private Bill to Parliament in order to update the legislation that governed the City Corporation’s Open Spaces. He noted that the varying characteristics of each of the City’s Open Spaces meant that some of the proposed amendments were more relevant to Open Spaces such as Epping Forest, than they were to Hampstead Heath.
He went on to add that the proposed changes focused on three main areas, namely the general management powers governing the Open Spaces; the ability to raise revenue, for example from persons using the Open Spaces for profit; and enhanced enforcement which, he noted already existed on the Heath, except for the ability to issue Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs). He concluded by noting that ideas and feedback from those present would be welcome so that this could be incorporated into the private Bill ahead of its November 2015 submission date.
Colin Gregory commented that the devil would be in the detail, and that the paper before the committee provided an outline of the proposals only. He queried to what extent the private Bill offered a single package of powers, and whether the three themes could be taken forward separately of one another. He felt that the theme of enhanced enforcement was the least controversial of the three, followed by revenue raising powers and powers of general management. He queried whether it would be more sensible to pursue greater enforcement powers by other means. The Director of Remembrancer’s Affairs replied that the passage of a private Bill was a complex process, and that if some aspects proved too controversial they would be removed to allow passage of the Bill. He emphasized that none of the powers sought would conflict with the current obligation for the City of London Corporation to maintain the natural aspect of the Heath.
Richard Sumray commented that a key issue was how policy would develop out of each of the three proposals. He felt that the ability to raise revenue would prove problematic, and therefore the City Corporation should outline each area of revenue it was seeking to develop. He went on to note that the Metropolitan Police had long had the ability to issue FPNs and he personally was uncertain as to the efficacy of their impact. He concluded by noting that Dog Control Orders were not mentioned within the report, only dog walking.
Jeremy Wright felt that this was a significant paper, and that the Heath and Hampstead Society would be keen to comment on it in detail at the earliest opportunity. He felt that the public paper before the committee only hinted at the powers the City Corporation was seeking for itself, and that there must exist a more detailed rationale behind the move to seek amended powers. He concluded by noting that he would welcome the Consultative Committee being afforded the ability to comment further before the proposal was submitted to the City Corporation’s decision-making committees. The Director of Remembrancer’s Affairs emphasized that this was an informal consultation exercise to seek comments.
In response to a question from Jeremy Wright regarding the proposal to increase the leases offered on buildings within the Open Spaces, the Superintendent replied that no decision had yet been taken regarding a preferred period of time.
Michael Hammerson felt that the terminology within the report was too vague. Moreover he noted that infrastructure was often below ground thus not affecting the natural aspect of the Open Spaces – however he queried whether this actually affected local water tables and associated habitats.
Susan Nettleton expressed concern that the ability to raise revenue would lead to the ‘financialisation’ of the Open Spaces, and even if the intent was to make minimal use of revenue raising powers in the short term, this could change over the next decade or so if budget pressures remained. In contrast to Michael Hammerson, she also suggested that the City Corporation was at risk of boxing itself in with the language it was using in seeking amended powers.
The Parliamentary Assistant commented that the City Corporation had inherited the powers of the Greater London Council when it had taken over the management of the Heath in 1989. Powers relating to FPNs had arisen subsequently, and Dog Control Orders (DCOs) featured in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014). Hence the current desire to update existing legislation.
The Chairman concluded discussion by noting the issue of Open Spaces legislation would return to the Consultative Committee in July 2015. Richard Sumray requested that more detail on intended policies arising from amended powers be provided at that stage.