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Anger as exploratory digging work for Hampstead Heath dams project set to begin

PUBLISHED: 08:00 20 March 2014 | UPDATED: 11:41 20 March 2014

A cable percussive rig, one of the pieces of equipmpent that will be used during the ground investigations, at a site near Northampton

A cable percussive rig, one of the pieces of equipmpent that will be used during the ground investigations, at a site near Northampton

Archant

City of London Corporation bosses have been accused of acting unlawfully and riding roughshod over public opinion as exploratory work for the controversial Hampstead Heath dams project begins on Monday.

A Parakeet nesting on the Heath. Picture: Ron Vester A Parakeet nesting on the Heath. Picture: Ron Vester

Engineers are poised to move in with heavy machinery to begin a 10-week ground investigation that will see 100 holes, varying from three to 15 metres deep, bored into the earth.

It is the first work to take place as part of the £15million scheme to stop the Heath’s dams collapsing in the event of an extreme storm.

But the move has alarmed campaigners who insist the Corporation, which manages the Heath, has no right to carry out the digging.

It has yet to lodge a planning application or even an environmental impact assessment with Camden Council.

Tony Hillier, chairman of the Heath and Hampstead Society, which is leading the Dam Nonsense opposition campaign, said: “The City is acting prematurely and has no legal authority to start the boring. I’m not aware that they have legal authority from Camden to make these holes.”

The Corporation has been reported to the Metropolitan Police’s wildlife crime unit over the works amid fears they pose a threat to nesting birds in breach of wildlife protection laws.

The nesting season lasts from March 1 to July 31 – during which it is forbidden to disturb nesting birds. The Heath’s population includes swans, parakeets and blue tits.

David Lewis, of Protect Our Ponds, who made the reports to police, said: “They are in danger of breaking the law. It’s bird nesting season now and they’re proposing to do intrusive work right through it.

“We don’t know what the effect on the wildlife will be. It’s outrageous.”

Mr Lewis has called for an injunction to halt the ground investigations, which will also see a floating rig erected in the middle of the Model Boating Pond to examine the pond bed.

The Corporation is also facing criticism for “ignoring” the results of its public consultation which are due to be published this week.

The Corporation has admitted that concerns were raised during the consultation about the impact on wildlife and the landscape, and the legality and necessity of the project.

“Their behaviour indicates that they’re utterly sure they’re going to go ahead – and all the consultation is just a bit of a sham,” said Mr Lewis.

A spokesman for the Corporation said the ground investigations were being lawfully carried out.

He said: “The ground investigation work has to be carried out now to avoid undue delay in the proposed project timetable.

“The ground will be checked for nesting birds and, if any are found, the ground investigation will be moved to avoid the bird nest.”

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