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

08:00 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 VesterA 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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Michael Darvill, sub-postmaster at Highgate Post Office, pictured with the ATM machine that was damaged when thieves tried to blow it open. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Cylinders of oxy-acetylene gas, which are about 4ft tall and usually used on building sites for welding, were reportedly used in the failed robbery at Highgate Post Office, in Archway Road, in the early hours of Friday.

Despite the explosion, the section of the ATM machine that holds bank notes was not blown open and the raiders escaped empty-handed.

Postmaster Michael Darvill, 75, said: “I’m told that it was done by gas and it was oxy-acetylene gas.

“They set fire to it which caused an explosion – it’s hugely volatile.

“They hoped they would blow the back doors off the safe inside the ATM machine. It’s important people realise there is a safe inside.

“They left a lot of debris around the place but no money at all was taken. They didn’t get away with a thing, which is very good, but it’s caused an awful lot of damage and cost.”

Flying Squad detectives were called to reports of a robbery at about 4.20am but the suspects had fled the scene by the time officers arrived.

Police said debris found was consistent with a small explosion.

Detectives are investigating whether CCTV footage of the incident is available.

Mr Darvill was told a police patrol car passing at the time had CCTV equipment on board.

No arrests have been made.

The sub-postmaster has owned Highgate Post Office for 50 years and said it is not the first time the shop has been targeted.

“This is the trouble with being a sub-postmaster,” he said.

“It always has been, because we are the money shop in the high street and people think we haven’t got security. But we do have a lot of security these days.

“I’ve been a sub-postmaster for 60 years this Christmas and I think it’s been the sixth or seventh attack I’ve had.

“I suppose this is the worst, and yet it’s the best because nobody was injured.

“As far as I’m concerned no money at all was taken and had money been taken, so what – money can be replaced, people can’t.”

He said he felt lucky no one was injured in the robbery.

“Quite honestly you will find any builder is always very, very wary of oxy-acetylene,” he said.

“I have absolutely no idea how they did it and I think that’s why the police were worried about it because people will eventually get killed, so they want to nip it in the bud.”

Anyone with information is asked to call police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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