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BOB HALL: we need to be alert to careless politics

PUBLISHED: 12:11 22 August 2008 | UPDATED: 15:19 07 September 2010

IT is sometimes difficult to remember that we are in the middle of summer. The weather has varied so much, generally being overcast and showery. Forecasters opined last week that the wet weather is not unusual and is in reality simply part of our traditio

IT is sometimes difficult to remember that we are in the middle of summer. The weather has varied so much, generally being overcast and showery. Forecasters opined last week that the wet weather is not unusual and is in reality simply part of our traditional summer. Rainfall has apparently not been significantly worse than other recent years.

That may be so, but the generally poor conditions have implications for all of the open spaces in North London that the City of London owns and manages.

When the weather is poor, visitor numbers fall. It might be said that this is not necessarily a bad thing. The pressure on the open spaces and the facilities is reduced, and for those who do visit it is a less crowded experience.

Against that is the fact that these spaces are maintained precisely so that they can be available for the use and enjoyment of the public. Hampstead Heath, Golders Hill Park and Highgate Wood were saved from the clutches of developers, by the public for the public. Often these actions involved significant battles with initially seeming overwhelming vested interests.

We have to maintain our alertness to the risks that outside pressures bring to bear on open spaces. The increased recognition of their value, through schemes such as the annually awarded Green Flags and Green Heritage status, is very welcome. All these open spaces once again received Green Flag awards.

To defend open spaces is not Luddite or reactionary. It is to recognise the contribution that such spaces make to help each of us achieve the necessary balance between work and play.

The views from Hampstead Heath, for example, which form a vital part of the experience of visiting the Heath, need to be retained precisely because they are part of what gives this part of London its individual and distinctive characteristic. A tradition that has taken centuries to develop can be lost in a month of careless politics.

In the same way, a view can be crucially skewed by failing to maintain a constant guard against unsympathetic development proposals.

Returning however to the weather, the fewer number of visitors also means that the events programmes are not enjoyed by so many people, which is a shame.

Highgate Wood this year is putting on a series of events which mainly reflect the heritage and natural aspects of the wood. So, there are guided walks addressing issues ranging from bats to Roman charcoal kilns.

Hampstead Heath and Golders Hill Park have an extensive programme of events nearly every day in August and less frequently in September. Full details can be found in the Hampstead Heath Diary, April 2008 to March 2009, which is generously sponsored by Capital Gardens. Pick up a copy at Parliament Hill Fields depot, or call the Superintendent's office on 020-7332 3322 and one will be sent to you.

At Queen's Park a children's programme has been running throughout the second half of July and the whole of August. A repeat of the very successful Open Gardens and Studios day was held on Sunday, June 15. A further celebration of the park is scheduled for Sunday September 14, when the annual Queen's Park Day, promoted by the Queen's Park Area Residents' Association, will take place with stalls from local charities and the community, supported by local business.

Bob Hall is Chairman of Hampstead Heath Management Committee


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