Cash spent on Heath must be slashed by 10 per cent

EVEN the wilds of Hampstead Heath are not immune to the budget cuts it has been revealed.

The squeezed finances of the City of London Corporation, which funds the open space’s day-to-day running, means that budgets need to be slashed by 10 per cent for 2011/12.

The cuts will come from a combination of litter collection, border planting and more efficient use of the sport facilities, said Michael Welbank, chairman of the Hampstead Heath Management committee.

Money for the maintenance of the Heath itself would be ring-fenced, he added.

“The one thing we really don’t ever want to cut is the maintenance of the wonderful mosaic of landscapes that makes up the Heath,” he said.

“We inherited it and we maintain it and it is our duty to do so.

“We have to run fast in order to stay still, because nature does not stand still. Nature would love to reclaim the Heath and, without maintenance in 20 or 30 years, you wouldn’t even be able to walk across it – and at that stage we wouldn’t be able to get it back.”

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But Heath and Hampstead Society, Tony Hillier chairman said he was loathe to accept a reduction in litter pick-ups.

“Our priority is to maintain the wild and natural state of the Heath – that’s why this society was set up over a hundred years ago,” he said.

“The collection of litter is central to maintaining that wildness.”

Society vice-chairman Tony Ghilchik suggested that people should take up the slack.

“Perhaps the more litter people see on the Heath, the more they will realise how dreadful it is to drop it in the first place and start picking up after themselves,” he said.

The much-loved annually planted borders of Golders Hill Park, which surround the greens with bursts of manicured colour each summer, may be one of the casualties of the cuts.

The planting of bulbs, which need to be replaced every year, is very labour-intensive and may be substituted with herbaceous borders and shrubs.

Mr Hillier added: “I would suggest that instead of just shrubs – which are really nice but can be a bit boring – that the corporation plant some perennials [plants that live longer than two years] mixed in.

“This would be less dramatically colourful but would create a sort of English garden feel.”

One of the key areas that the Corporation has marked out for money saving is the Heath’s sport facilities.

Mr Welbank says that many of the sports facilities are under-used and the Corporation will undergo “vigorous” review of opening hours and prices.

He said: “If you take the athletics track, for example, in winter and during the day it gets very few visitors and at other times it is used much more intensively. So it makes sense to alter the hours to fit this pattern.”

Mr Gilchick hopes community groups will be able to take over some of the running of the sports facilities to enable them to stay open longer at more useful times.

He said: “It would be ideal if clubs like the Highgate Harriers, who use the track often, were given the responsibility to run the facilities when they are using them and then we won’t have to reduce the hours and still reduce the cost to the Corporation.”