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Bill Oddie backs Hampstead Heath dams project - despite being patron of main opposition group

08:00 06 February 2014

Bill Oddie has supported the Hampstead Heath dams proposals, which he believes may benefit wildlife at the Heath ponds. Picture: Polly Hancock

Bill Oddie has supported the Hampstead Heath dams proposals, which he believes may benefit wildlife at the Heath ponds. Picture: Polly Hancock

Polly Hancock

Broadcaster Bill Oddie has thrown his weight behind the controversial Hampstead Heath dams project, despite being a patron of the society leading the Dam Nonsense opposition campaign.

Possible wildlife benefits of the Heath ponds project according to the City of London Corporation

* New and enlarged reedbed areas – which provide a good habitat for pond life and for wading birds

* Increased bird nesting area and shelter for overwintering species such as water rail and bittern

* Increase in amphibian and fish spawning sites

* Increased grass snake habitat

* Improvement in water quality through pond aeration which leads to a decrease in nutrients released from sediment

* Sediment removal

* Increase area of wet woodland – again good habitat for amphibians

* Extra marshland habitat

The wildlife expert and former star of The Goodies told the Ham&High he would not be “toeing the party line” of the Heath and Hampstead Society because he supports the direction taken by the City of London Corporation.

The Hampstead resident insisted that people should trust the advice of the City’s experts and be less resistant to changes on the Heath.

He also believes the £15million project, which would see dams raised by as much as 18ft, is likely to benefit wildlife at the ponds.

“My feeling is that first of all, as regards the safety angle, one really has to trust people on that one,” the 72-year-old said.

“You get opposition where people say, ‘I don’t think it’s necessary’. Unless you’re an expert on flood water management, you have got to accept what the responsible survey has suggested.”

The City of London, which manages the Heath and is currently consulting on the plans, insists the engineering works are 
required by law to prevent the dams breaching in the event of a catastrophic flood.

The City’s experts say as many as 1,400 people could drown in downstream communities like Gospel Oak and South End Green in the worst-case scenario, but that the planned dam improvements could save about 300 of those lives.

However, the Heath and Hampstead Society, which counts Mr Oddie among its patrons, says the project is the greatest threat the Heath has ever faced and could leave it “permanently disfigured”.

Comedian Alan Davies and violinist Nigel Kennedy are among those who have backed the society’s Dam Nonsense campaign calling on the City to downscale its proposals.

The society is considering launching a High Court legal challenge if the City rejects its pleas.

But Mr Oddie suggested much of the opposition is from people who simply do not want change.

He said: “Unfortunately that attitude comes across often enough. But [the Heath] does change, nature changes it anyway. We can’t say we want it to stay as it is, because it won’t.”

He added: “Having looked at the plans and photographs and artists’ impressions, it seems to me that the intention is in the right place.

“I am most concerned about whether it provides good habitats for wildlife and the plans they have might very well make it better for wildlife.

“Assuming they carry them out as planned, I hope I’m still around to see all this. It seems to me the intention is in the right place and I’m prepared to trust the people doing this.”

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