Campaign against more Heath cycling sets out its stall

MOST of the great local organisations were set up to prevent the erosion by one means or another of Hampstead and Highgate s most-prized environmental assets. A relative newcomer to the list, Heath For Feet, is no exception. Its raison d etre is to preve

MOST of the great local organisations were set up to prevent the erosion by one means or another of Hampstead and Highgate's most-prized environmental assets. A relative newcomer to the list, Heath For Feet, is no exception.

Its raison d'etre is to prevent any increase in the number of designated cycling paths on the Heath, and in response to the Hampstead Heath Management Plan consultation, it has submitted an impressive document in support of its case.

Heath For Feet faces a tough battle, because cyclists have influential people and a good deal of public opinion on their side. There are many who take the view that if cycling is to be encouraged for all kinds of reasons, then it is a ridiculous anomaly to prevent bicycles from traversing wide open spaces as freely and frequently as possible.

The problem with the Heath is that over the years it has become a virtual walker's paradise simply because it is one of the few places in London where a person can walk for miles without encountering any form of vehicle, apart from those deemed necessary for safety and maintenance.


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If it could be guaranteed that any extension would be used only by responsible cyclists, and in manageable numbers, then Heath For Feet's arguments would be less compelling. The difficulty is that no-one can predict the outcome. Will a 60 per cent increase in the total length of cycling paths, which is what pro-cycling campaigners are seeking, lead to a 10 per cent increase in the number of cyclists, or a 100 per cent increase? What will the impact be over a lengthy timespan, say 10 or 20 years?

It is important to remember that many members of Heath For Feet are cyclists too, and that the organisation is not against cycling on the Heath, but rather is fearful of a scenario in which it is expanded to an extent that it has an irreversible and detrimental effect on the joy and tranquillity of walking in this very special open space.

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The Camden Cycling Campaign, itself an excellent organisation in so many respects, wants no fewer than six new cycle routes or links, which seems excessive. The longest of these new additions would in fact be longer than all but one of the existing paths.

Chances are the CCC is operating on the basis that if it can't have that many, the Heath's custodians may feel that compromise is the better part of valour, and reward them with three or four.

Hundreds of cyclists already use the Heath every day to get to and from work. They deserve credit for, quite literally, getting on their bikes. Undoubtedly many of them do so because they are socially responsible people.

But risking a change that could turn large swathes of the Heath into an integral part of the commuter transport network is asking a lot, even in an era when cycling is seen by some as the holy grail of environmental enhancement.

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