BOB HALL: Crucial stage in Heath cycling debate

PUBLISHED: 11:27 10 January 2008 | UPDATED: 14:39 07 September 2010

Part One of Hampstead Heath Management Plan identified two actions concerning use of the Heath by pedestrians and cyclists. It was agreed that surveys would be carried out to establish who uses the Heath and obtain accurate information about the number o

Part One of Hampstead Heath Management Plan identified two actions concerning use of the Heath by pedestrians and cyclists. It was agreed that surveys would be carried out "to establish who uses the Heath and obtain accurate information about the number of visitors" and that a further review of cycling on the Heath would be commissioned "recognising the strength of feeling both for and against cycling".

That review was in fact initiated in 2007, since it was clear that the issue is one of considerable importance, and in any event such a review had been agreed earlier that year.

The existing cycle network on the Heath remains largely unchanged since it was introduced by the Greater London Council in the 1970s. However, Camden Cycling Campaign and others have proposed additional cycle routes on the Heath to link existing routes and create what they consider would be a viable cycle route for leisure cycling and for 'green' travel for schoolchildren and commuters.

Other groups, most particularly the Heath for Feet Campaign and the long-established Heath and Hampstead Society, have argued that any increase in cycle route provision would adversely affect the enjoyment of other users.

Intelligent Space was commissioned to carry out surveys to determine the usage of the Heath by pedestrians, cyclists and other users, the peak flow rates and the user patterns at Heath entrances and along routes on which cycling is permitted, as well as routes on which it is not.

The results of the surveys, together with information from automated movement loggers installed at key locations on the Heath and its entrances, will also enable accurate estimates to be made of the number of visitors to the Heath and the occupancy of the Heath at peak times.

In addition, WS Atkins was appointed to undertake an assessment of the suitability of designated and other routes (including those suggested by the Camden Cycling Campaign) for shared use on the basis of design guidance taken from London Cycling Design standards. This has been a ground-breaking exercise because there is as yet very little guidance available in connection with such assessments in an area such as Hampstead Heath being, as it is, part rural and part slightly more formal.

The consultants' reports have now been received. In essence, their collective view is that of the existing six cycle routes, one needs upgrading if it is to remain suitable for shared use, and of the seven additional routes proposed by the Camden Cycle Campaign, two are suitable for shared use.

Consideration of their conclusions and recommendations is now commencing.

As a first stage, individuals or groups are invited to submit comments on the reports by February 1. The statutory committees will then consider those views. On March 17 the management committee will decide which, if any, of the additional routes warrant further investigation and what, if anything, might be done in an acceptable fashion to enable any existing designated route to retain that status.

If further technical investigation is required, advice on feasibility, etc will be considered by the statutory committees in May and the committee will decide whether to indicate an intention to proceed with any upgrading proposals and/or any new route. After further consultation, final views and comments will be put before the statutory committees before a final decision is made by the committee on July 28.

We believe in this measured approach, based on objectively obtained and assessed evidence as to usage, because this issue is important, with strong feelings involved.

The survey results show that there were approximately 7.2 million visits to the Heath last year. It is reasonably likely that in a year of better weather the number would be closer to eight million. We all have to recognise that the Heath is shared by different users, which may result in conflicts that, in view of the particular nature of the Heath, are not resolvable so that one form of use has to be preferred over another.

We do hope that views will be expressed on the consultants' conclusions. A copy of the summary (or the full reports if required) can be obtained by calling the Heath office on 020 - 7332 3322, or by e-mail at

Happy New Year to all Ham&High readers.

Bob Hall is chair of the Hampstead Heath

management committee

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