September 20 2014 Latest news:

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The new chief of Hampstead Heath has pledged to protect the “jewel in the crown” of London’s open spaces.

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Jeremy Simons, who was appointed chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Hampstead Heath management committee last week after Michael Wellbank stepped down, admitted his task would prove challenging with tough economic times ahead and shrinking budgets for the upkeep of the beauty spot.

“I would like to hand the Heath over in as good a state as it is at the moment,” Mr Simons, who grew up in Finchley, told the Ham&High.

“We live in difficult economic times and I would like – as far as it is possible – that the Heath should not fall under those pressures, but that’s going to be quite difficult.”

One expense he will not spare is the £15million controversial dams project.

Mr Simons, a keen cyclist who has never owned a car, said the City is legally bound to carry out the works for the safety of those who live below the dams. He hopes that construction will be well under way by the end of what is expected to be a three-year tenure.

Mr Simons, who worked for a telecoms company in the City before retiring in 2002, said: “It’s not an optional decision, but the City does wish to work as closely as possible with local groups.”

The City will set up a stakeholders advisory group to feed in their views on the project.

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