BOB HALL: Urgent need for meeting of minds on Heath issues

Hampstead Heath is a very special place. It needs to be preserved and protected. That is fundamental to the duty that the City of London has in relation to the Heath. Put at its lowest level, we need to ensure that the Heath is passed onto the next genera

Hampstead Heath is a very special place. It needs to be preserved and protected. That is fundamental to the duty that the City of London has in relation to the Heath. Put at its lowest level, we need to ensure that the Heath is passed onto the next generation in no worse a state of repair, condition and status than it is at present.

This week has seen two developments that give grounds for hoping that collectively, as a community, we have at least discharged one part of this task.

This relates to planning issues which have a significant impact on the Heath, namely Strategic Views, and the position concerning the impact of development outside the Heath on the Heath.

The first is strategic views. Boris Johnson, the new Mayor of London, a week ago said that he would seek to reverse the planning guidance, brought in last year under Ken Livingstone's mayoralty, which significantly reduced the 'viewing corridors' of St Paul's Cathedral and the Palace of Westminster from points across the capital. Mr Johnson said: "I do think we should be protecting strategic views in London and I do think we should be protecting beautiful, world-famous landmarks". So say all of us.

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The City of London Corporation strongly protested against Mr Livingstone's proposals as they related to the narrowing of the views from the Heath. Other London boroughs, principally Camden and Westminster, objected.

Amenity societies were in particular appalled at what Mr Livingstone proposed. All objections were ignored and the proposal was adopted after the government agreed.

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Now all of that has very thankfully changed. The Mayor has spoken, and we call on the government to accept the Mayor's proposals, which will return the views from Hampstead Heath to what they were. I look forward to the reversal of the decision with respect to the strategic views.

The second piece of good news is that Camden Council's planning committee last week turned down the method of development proposed with respect to Fitzroy Farmhouse adjoining Millfield Lane (half of which belongs to the Heath). Essentially, the developer's proposal was a method of access to the site which would ruin a wonderfully atmospheric and rural lane - possibly where Keats walked with Coleridge - in a way which would in addition present grave danger to the many users (over 3,000 per day in the summer) of the lane.

The City has a responsibility to such users and will not agree to measures which risk safety.

The time seems to have arrived when a clearer line needs to be taken with respect to development outside the Heath which has an impact on the Heath. It has become apparent that this is a growing issue, as evidenced by the discussions and issues that have arisen with Athlone House, the Garden House (and congratulations to those who had the courage of their convictions in resisting the development), West Heath Road and Fitzroy Farm.

The common theme is a desire (understandable) by developers to maximise the benefit to sites of adjoining the Heath, but who forget that co-existence is a two-way street. The Heath has a benefit that needs to be preserved as well. That is a unique quality of this open space to be able to 'see' across London.

There are now so many developments proposed that the time has arrived to establish a common statement by all involved with the Heath which will protect its vital interests while setting out a clear position which will be of help to developers.

In 1981 Camden had a policy which seems to set out the position in a very balanced and rational way. The objectives were to preserve views of the Heath; preserve views to the Heath and the wooded and open areas adjacent to it; control development along roads leading to it so as to respect their present contribution to the setting; and preserve the existing scale and character within the Heath's fringes.

We need to establish a broad consensus between all interested bodies (Camden, Barnet, Haringey, local conservation area advisory committees, and amenity societies, such as the Heath and Hampstead Society and the Highgate Society).

This is a major task and, in view of the increasing threats to the Heath from proposed developments, an urgent one.

Bob Hall is chairman of Hampstead Heath

management committee

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