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Engineer's alternative plans for Hampstead Heath ponds

PUBLISHED: 07:00 28 April 2012

Author Stephen Myers gives a book talk about hidden rivers at St Stephen's Church, Pond Street, NW3

Author Stephen Myers gives a book talk about hidden rivers at St Stephen's Church, Pond Street, NW3

Dieter Perry

A leading civil engineer has floated an idea to construct a series of river walks to drain excess water from Hampstead Heath's ponds as an alternative to the controversial damming project.

The Hampstead and Highgate bathing ponds are set to undergo major work in 2015 as the City of London Corporation strengthens flood defences.

However, waterways expert Stephen Myers has drawn up proposals to construct a network of nature trails in the south of Camden, fed by water from the ponds through a new pipeline which would ease pressure on existing dams.

Mr Myers, a fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, said: “Why on earth don’t we use the water off the Heath, conduct it through a pipeline and introduce water features? You could drain that water off and use it for the beautification of the borough.”

However, the £32million alternative would cost more than double what the corporation is planning to spend.

Mr Myers argues his Hampstead water conduit project would create parkland, walks and cycle lanes in Camden and Westminster, and also refresh lakes in Regent’s Park and St James’s Park.

Chairman of the Heath and Hampstead Society, Tony Hillier, approved of the plans but said it would not be a practical alternative to the new dams.

“It would need a huge amount of work and a massive budget,” he said.

“Stephen’s plans would affect different boroughs and their councils, the Greater London Authority and Transport for London. That would be a massive amount of work.”

Design companies are currently bidding for the corporation’s £15million contract to update the ponds’ 300-year-old flood defences.

A spokesman for the corporation said the current dams are not robust enough to withstand a tropical-style downpour and pose a serious threat to hundreds of people who live beneath the dams in Gospel Oak and Dartmouth Park.

A strong storm in 1975 caused water to spill from the ponds but it is not known if this was directly responsible for flooding in dozens of basement homes.

Heath bosses are considering constructing slipways to catch any overflow and reduce damage to the dams.

The corporation claims its new project could become necessary should proposals to heighten safety standards be passed by the government.

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