A conservation group has refused to endorse part of the City of London Corporation’s improvement plans for Hampstead Heath.

The corporation, which manages the Heath, has identified six areas around Parliament Hill it is looking to upgrade as part of its masterplan.

The proposals, which include building a new ball games court and splash park, were generally well received by the public during a consultation process this summer  - but one drew opposition from the Heath and Hampstead Society.

Visualisations of the proposed changes were drawn up by Land Use Consultants, and put to members of the public as part of a consultation held over the summer by MTW Consultants.

The results of that exercise have now been published.

The proposals for each of the six areas, which include a new wetlands, ball games court and splash park, and improvements to the café, children’s play area and playground were rated ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ by more than half of respondents.

Of the six, the new splash park was received most favourably (68 per cent), while the wetlands area had the lowest combined positive responses (56 per cent).

It was this that drew consternation from the Heath and Hampstead Society, which wrote it could not endorse the plans as they stood.

Ham & High: Space around Parliament Hill café could be upgradedSpace around Parliament Hill café could be upgraded (Image: Google)

According to the consultation report, the society “strongly supports" safeguarding playing fields and adapting to climate change by establishing a wetland that would help drain the area and act as a biodiverse habitat in a nature-deprived section of the Heath. But it said it could not endorse the specific plan.

The potential location of the new wetlands on the north side of the Lido “lacks the same biodiversity potential and connectivity” as an area initially suggested from the Broad Walk to the Lido, the report continues, and the artist’s depiction “emphasises recreational rather than conservation value, raising concerns about foot traffic impact”.

The society did support proposals for improving sports facilities and grounds, playgrounds and facilities around the café, alongside further recommendations, such as the planting of a line of oak trees along the Broad Walk.

In total, 382 completed responses were submitted, excluding the society’s entry, with the wetlands receiving more feedback than any other of the areas involved.

Concerns included the impact on the “wild and serene atmosphere”, the potential for over-engineering, and intruding boardwalks and paths.

As well as the improvement plans, respondents were also asked questions such as why they visit the Parliament Hill area, and how they travel to the site.

In a separate summary report prepared following the consultation feedback, officials wrote: “What is clear from the responses is that there needs to be a further series of design iterations in response to the comments, with possible sets of options for particular areas like the play spaces and the café.

“Many Heath users are very sensitive to ‘appropriateness’ in landscaping and general design and prefer a minimalist approach.

"This view is strongly rooted in what so many Heath users would describe as the naturalness of the Heath, and the importance of protecting this from ‘parkification’.

"The attempt to introduce new pathways and boardwalks in the wetland proposal generated a number of negative comments, where respondents have sensed an attempt to introduce features that they associate with a more formal landscape or a country park.”

During a City of London Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood and Queen’s Park Committee meeting in which the report was discussed, Cllr Michael Hudson spoke in favour of the proposals, and pushed back on some of the criticisms of the new wetlands.

He said he does not think enough people realise the natural state of the area earmarked is one covered in trees, brambles and other undergrowth, and that it looks as it does because it is “very carefully and very intensively managed”.

“And if we have an area of the heath that is basically a bogland, then to make it into a wetland is a very sensible thing to do,” he continued.

The current proposals are intended to be a first draft, with a more detailed plan to be put forward in a future funding bid.

Other major works in the area are already underway, with the Corporation investing more than £2 million to resurface the Parliament Hill running track among other projects.

The Heath and Hampstead Society was approached for comment, but had not responded at the time of publication.