Editorial view: Heath must be preserved for all of us

The mixed pond on Hampstead Heath. Picture: CITY OF LONDON CORPORATION

The mixed pond on Hampstead Heath. Picture: CITY OF LONDON CORPORATION - Credit: Archant

There’s a uniting factor about the Heath. Whatever people’s opinions about it are, everybody feels a sense of ownership over it.

You could trace it back to the 1871 Hampstead Heath Act, where the organisation who ran the Heath pledged to: “keep the Heath open, unenclosed and unbuilt on.”

You could work it back to generations of local people who have fond memories of sledging in the snow, having a picnics on spring days, meeting up with friends on summers evenings or running through the brown autumn leaves of the capital’s largest open space.

Or perhaps an appreciation for how lucky we are to have one of Britain’s most famous open spaces on our doorsteps.

To many it’s almost in their blood. So it’s no wonder concerns have been raised in the last week since it came to light that Harry Hallowes former bit of turf of the Heath has been sold to a private bidder at an auction.

While he only fought off eviction just over a decade ago, it evokes a romantic notion of someone deciding the land was theirs, and that is that. It’s an irony that the two biggest films set in Camden over the last five years have both involved squatters.

The underpinning idea behind all of our parks, whether it’s the Heath, Primrose Hill, or Fortune Green is that they belong to all of us. To provide an opportunity for the next group of people to go sledging on, run through the leaves, or see friends as the nights get longer. That ultimate bit of escapism from everyday life.

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There are covenants protecting the Heath. But the longer the intentions behind the Heath being bought stay quiet, the more people still start to worry that somehow, that small plot of land could somehow be developed, the antithesis of exactly what the Heath should be.

The person who bought the land needs to make clear why they have bought the land, and what their plans are, and that a corner of the Heath will remain as it should be, wild open space, for generations to come.