Battle lines drawn over controversial works to Hampstead Heath dams

Battle lines were drawn over the future of the much loved Hampstead Heath ponds as residents voiced their grave concerns over plans to close the waterways for several years.

The Ham&High revealed last January proposals to totally rebuild the dams to prevent dangerous flooding in Gospel Oak and Dartmouth Park if a tropical style storm occurred – the risk of which is calculated at one in 10,000 years.

The government had warned such a downpour could cost hundreds of lives.

But in the first major public meeting on the controversial proposals, residents said they were deeply sceptical this slim risk justified the noise and congestion building works would inflict on the peaceful nature spot.

Speaking to a meeting of more than 100 residents at Rosslyn Hill Chapel in Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead, on Tuesday night (January 31), Stephen Myers said: “It is absurd to think that you can estimate what a one in 10,000 year stream is with any accuracy.”

The fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers added: “I think it will be impossible to challenge the technicalities of the legislation.

“We have got to try and get some better solutions that might not damage the Heath quite so much.”

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There were also calls to increase the capacity of the ponds by making them deeper.

City of London Corporation, which runs the Heath, said the major works are needed to strengthen an inadequate spillway for overflowing water, and ensure the ponds meet more stringent rules laid down in recent legislation.

Severe rain in 1975 did cause flooding on the Health and into Gospel Oak, allegedly claiming the life of one man.

But critics have questioned whether this can be blamed on a breach of the dams.

Helen Marcus, of The Heath and Hampstead Society, said: “Does the public want to lose the beautiful environment of the ponds in order to protect against this risk which is so nebulous?”

Tony Hillier, chairman of the Heath and Hampstead Society, struck a more conciliatory note.

“We want to be closely involved with the City of London in this, but they understand that we have a different purpose than they have,” he said.

Mr Hillier added: “If we are still unhappy with what we see, the ultimate sanction is to take it to judicial review.”

Michael Welbank, chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Hampstead Heath Committee, said a “fundamental review” of the landscaping scheme is planned and that all technical queries would be looked at.

He said: “There is no schism between The Heath and Hampstead Society and the City of London Corporation over what we are trying to achieve, and the way in which we are trying to achieve it.”