BOB HALL: Heath management plan is our covenant with the people

In 1867, Walter Bagehot, the renowned analyst of the English constitution, noted that No great work has ever been produced except after a long interval of still and musing meditation . Part One of the Management Plan for Hampstead Heath (as agreed by th

In 1867, Walter Bagehot, the renowned analyst of the English constitution, noted that "No great work has ever been produced except after a long interval of still and musing meditation".

Part One of the Management Plan for Hampstead Heath (as agreed by the Management Committee on November 26) would fit this observation, except that whether the process was one of "still and musing meditation" may be open to question.

The fundamental starting point is that the Heath is the product of human intervention over the centuries. To ensure that it does not become a wilderness, a strategic plan was needed.

What we now have constitutes, in effect, a covenant between the City of London and the users of Hampstead Heath, present and future. It has been arrived at after a long period of consultation. It confirms the City's commitment to maintain the Heath as "a beautiful and accessible piece of countryside in the city, a place with a rich mosaic of habitats, a diverse landscape and a wealth of historic and natural resources".

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Part One sets out the legal framework, the history of this remarkable space, the City's involvement, cross-cutting themes (the environment etc) and finally the agreed vision.

It then addresses eight particular strands of activity on the Heath. These strands provide the structure within which future actions will be planned. Objectives and ideas are given a weighting according to their relative importance. A hierarchy of requirements is thereby established for the first time.

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The first strand is History. In order to know what the Heath is today we need to know its past. Henry Ford's dictum that "History is bunk" is not acceptable. The degree of community involvement in the place over the centuries is remarkable, which substantially accounts for the fact that development of it was so strenuously resisted.

The next strand is the Natural Landscape. We need to understand the geology and ecology, and, for example, why particular lines of trees are where they are and where sand and gravel extraction took place.

This in turn leads on to the third issue - Hydrology. For the first time, a coherent picture of the interaction of water with the land has been established, its impact, how it can develop, and most importantly how it can be managed, both for the benefit of the Heath and in such a way as minimises so far as possible the risk of flooding of surrounding areas.

Designed Landscape forms the fourth topic. Golders Hill Park is the nearest that the Heath comes to 'parkland' as such, with the Hill Garden and the Pergola being formal garden landscapes.

The Built Environment comes next. Over time, the Heath has acquired an immense diversity of structures and infrastructures, often in a rather unplanned way. Any future items need to fit sensitively with the overall vision for the Heath.

Finally, the plan comes to the most important reason why the Heath is held with such affection and dedication - the people who use it. The Heath is there for young and old, the fit and not so fit, at any time of day and night, informally or otherwise. That is at the centre of the City's obligation to the Heath. The 'people aspects' are covered by the three closing topics, Informal Public Use, Sports and Access and Education.

The plan will have two further parts. Part Two, on which work has already started, will set out specific detailed policies for the management of individual and diverse areas (eg: gorse, the Hill Garden, etc).

Finally Part Three will set out general principles for localised management from which the annual work plans will be drawn.

All of this is ambitious. The plan's implementation will of course depend on resources being available. The City will do its best to fulfil its ambition for the Heath, and to improve it in accordance with the aspirations set out in the plan.

It is exciting to see the product of so much work. To extend Bagehot's definition, the plan is the result of a long interval of discussion generously contributed to by many people, for which very sincere thanks are due to all who have given time and expertise.

This commitment is as important as that of our forebears who resisted the desecration of the Heath in the 19th century. Long may this love of the Heath continue.

Bob Hall is chairman of the Hampstead Heath

management committee

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