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Profile: Top lawyer to take helm of Heath and Hampstead Society and lead dams fight

Marc Hutchinson Marc Hutchinson

Friday, June 20, 2014
8:00 AM

A top lawyer is set to take the helm at The Heath and Hampstead Society as it faces one of the most critical fights in its history.

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Australian-born finance lawyer Marc Hutchinson – husband of theatre impresario Nica Burns – is due to become chairman of the influential conservation group as it heads for a High Court showdown over the future of Hampstead Heath.

The 59-year-old, a partner at law firm Slaughter and May, is already spearheading the society’s judicial review challenge against the City of London Corporation’s ponds project, which he says will inflict “lasting damage” upon the green acres.

The South Hill Park resident told the Ham&High he will not give up the fight – even if the society loses the case.

“If we lose the judicial review, [we will] lobby the government in order to urge them to intervene, to give guidance to the City in terms of reducing the scale of the ponds project,” he said.

It may not come to that, for Mr Hutchinson has form in defeating the Heath’s bosses at judicial review, having successfully challenged its attempts to ban swimming without lifeguards in 2005.

He is the only candidate standing to succeed Tony Hillier, who is stepping down after 11 years at tonight’s annual meeting of the society at St Stephen’s in Rosslyn Hill.

“Tony Hillier has been a terrific chairman and he’s going to be a difficult act to follow,” Mr Hutchinson said.

He believes Mr Hillier leaves the society on a strong footing and “very united”.

“I don’t have grand plans to shake things up,” he said.

“If the model is working, we shouldn’t interfere with it.”

He joined the conservation group shortly after moving from Highbury to Hampstead in the early 2000s, to escape the looming spectre of Arsenal’s Emirates stadium, which was soon to be built at the time.

Although it has not faced disruption on that scale, he believes the society’s role in protecting Hampstead and the Heath from developers and other outside threats can hardly be overstated.

“The threats are never-ending and come from different quarters. It’s not possible to see what’s coming next,” he said.

He identifies the blight of basement excavations and the High Speed 2 rail link – specifically the HGV traffic it will bring – as current concerns.

But the ponds project is at the forefront of his mind.

“Many people do not realise the extent of the disruption it will cause. I think people are going to find it quite upsetting to see huge earth-moving vehicles going back and forth across parts of the Heath for one or two years, and seeing the landscape altered before their very eyes.”

He believes hundreds of thousands of people feel strongly about protecting the Heath and says many talk of having a “spiritual relationship” with it – some even claiming it has saved them from suicide.

Mr Hutchinson is a regular pond swimmer, a habit he traces to his roots.

“I was born in Australia and swam all my life,” he said.

“If you can’t swim in the surf, the next best thing is to swim in the Heath’s ponds.”

He grew up in the Blue Mountains, outside Sydney, but went to school in England. The family having moved here when his dentist father went to work for the NHS.

He returned to Sydney to study law and start his career, before settling in London in 1992.

Aside from swimming, he counts opera, cricket and rugby as among his hobbies, as well as theatre.

His wife is the chief executive of Nimax Theatres, owner of six West End playhouses including The Apollo, which suffered a ceiling collapse during a performance in December.

Mr Hutchinson was not keen to comment on the matter, which is still being investigated by Westminster Council.

In a rallying cry to people who know and love the Heath, he added: “I would make a plea to people who live in Hampstead, who care about Hampstead and the Heath, to join the society.

“People live in Hampstead because of the amenities and beauty of the surroundings and the society is at the forefront of protecting those.”

n For more details about the society visit heathandhampstead.org.uk.

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