Ham&High letters: Bathing pond charges, ignored residents, libraries, Friends of Queen’s Wood and Jean Simmons

The Mixed Bathing Pond (no.3) on Hampstead Heath. Picture: KEN MEARS

The Mixed Bathing Pond (no.3) on Hampstead Heath. Picture: KEN MEARS - Credit: Archant

Letters, contributions and comments sent in from Ham&High readers this week.

Heath pond charge is 'opportunism'

Robert Sutherland Smith, chairman, United Swimmers' Association of Hampstead Heath, writes:

Last summer the Corporation of London unwisely, in my opinion, promoted a private film about those strictly limited and marvellous scarce resources, the swimming ponds of Hampstead Heath.

First, they assisted and encouraged the making of this film. Then they staged showings of it at cinemas; it was shown across North London and beyond.

What they did not do was to budget for additional staffing resources to cope with the sudden, predictable and inevitable spike in demand for them.

Unfortunately, all of this has been entangled with comments of the Health and Safety Executive about the number of lifeguards to swimmers.

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The corporation offer no statistical evidence that the rise in numbers is part of a trend. Moreover, these types of days occur only a few times in a year. It must not be allowed to manipulate "health and safety" to enclose the Heath bathing ponds by charges and or other means.

The admirable and dedicated life rescue staff at the ponds, were overwhelmed last summer by this sudden un-budgeted increase in numbers as angry and frustrated people, brought there by this film, sought admission to the ponds on the hottest, sunniest days, - always peaks in seasonal demand.

The staff have had to carry the load of this short sighted bit of un-budgeted marketing and promotion.

Now, the corporation seeks to deal with this problem of its own making, by portraying it as some ineluctable and mysterious expression of social and climate change and (you guessed it) entertaining, yet again, the notion of charging for use of these bathing ponds, which like the rest of the Heath, have been free since the Hampstead Heath Act of 1872 made them so.

Understandably and inevitably, any attempt to use this as justification for charging Heath users will be reasonably resisted as they always have been.

Another by-product has been an increase in litter?

Does the City entertain the idea of a litter charge; or a charge for extra policing to deal with the frustrated, overheated, angry people brought there by corporation sponsorship of a "for profit film"?

A charge for more uniformed, Hampstead constabulary, equipped with squad cars, to enforce order upon the anarchy of heedless over-promotion of a limited resource?

The corporation - certainly short term - has altered the established long term supply and demand for the ponds.

There is no proper statistical basis for deducing a change in the trend of usage.

Any attempt to impose charges would be unscientific and self serving opportunism by the Corporation of London in an enclosure of the Heath, contrary to the intention of the Hampstead Heath Act.

Pond charges are unnecessary

John McPartlin, Creighton Avenue, East Finchley, writes:

The City of London Corporation, which has responsibility for both Hampstead Heath overall and its ponds also is conducting a review (What plan for the ponds? January 16) on how to update policy and facilities in order to meet the needs of all users, everyone who uses these ponds is aware of their increasing popularity.

Their enjoyment has traditionally been free and this should continue to be the case.

The corporation is a very wealthy body that was aware that this was the case when it was originally awarded administration and does not need to introduce such charges. It is at present conducting a review to which it invites contribution. Naturist Action Group wishes to draw to attention that the heath management has agreed to naturist sunbathing on the heath, and has instructed staff that this should be allowed when conducted properly. It also points out that this activity has a history that goes back a long way, at the ponds in particular. They and the heath are the ideal place for such sunbathing and swimming that should be made more fully available for everyone to enjoy.

In keeping with this, in the case of the Men's Pond the divisive barrier that was installed some years ago that has much restricted usage should be removed.

This will thereby allow the area, which has great potential for improvement and enlargement to be used to the full and could ideally be something that could be looked at in the review in the light of this increased usage.

Residents feel our views are ignored

Edie Raff, chairwoman, Cresta House Residents Association, former chairwoman, Save Swiss Cottage, writes:

It turns out that unelected employees at Camden Council can not only ignore with impunity the needs and wishes of the local community but they can ignore decisions taken on the community's behalf by their democratically elected councillors.

In her comment in Ham&High (January 2) the chairwoman of Save Swiss Cottage shockingly pointed out that Camden's director of regeneration and planning who is an unelected employee of Camden Council, took the unilateral decision to reject the democratically arrived at decision by the elected Member's Briefing Panel to refer an extremely controversial 100 Avenue Road construction management plan to a full Council Planning Committee for a public hearing.

How can this happen? These unelected employees do not necessarily have any connection to Swiss Cottage: they do not need to live here, to work here and they are certainly not chosen by the local electorate.

Yet it appears that it is just such individuals who are - in the end - allowed to make the crucial decisions that deeply impact the quality of life of local residents.

How indeed can local democracy prevail when even our elected officials (not to mention local residents who by now are used to being disregarded in the 100 Avenue Road process) count for very little, if anything.

Policy must form part of discussion

Keith Martin, Friern Park, Friern Barnet, writes:

The public discussion at Chipping Barnet library on January 16 (Our libraries, letters) was revealing.

The chairman, Eric Bohl of Activist, presented his draft report of his firm's interviews and research into the state of Barnet's libraries. He explained that their brief did not extend to providing a review of library policy, merely to commenting on the state of play.

He revealed that his report would be presented to Barnet Council by late February, for the next libraries committee meeting on March 5.

This sends out a message to every local authority in the UK; that Barnet Council is treating the exercise of this evaluation as a whitewash of its current policies, not as the promised request from the public for ideas and priorities, which is what it said on the tin.

Among these ideas are to rewrite the draft review completely, bearing in mind the 1964 Libraries Act and considering best practice from UK libraries who comply or come close to complying with the Act; consulting with CILIP, The Library Campaign and perhaps one of Barnet's twin towns such as Chaville (as was done for consultations on artsdepot); liaising with Save Barnet Libraries to avoid repeating the time-wasting mistakes of the past ten years and maximise the lessons learned from considering best practice elsewhere.

I had written to Nicky Morgan, the minister of culture, inviting her to attend the discussion and to visit some of Barnet's unstaffed libraries, a primary area of debate. I sent her this poem:

Barnet Council in its wisdom and its cost-effective zeal,

Seems to think that education of our children isn't real.

Fresh start to twenty-twenty? I can think of only one.

Been left over far too often; it is GET LIBRARIES DONE!

There's a statute there already. It's called the '64 Act.

It's just waiting for the council to wake up and make it fact.

Well, I've news for Barnet Council, that a libr'y that's unstaffed

Is no more like a libr'y than Rob'nson Crusoe's raft.

So fresh start in twenty-twenty? Let all children come in free

To ev'ry library in Barnet without adults to agree!

The council must be re-educated, by ourselves and by the minister of culture. We must together use the paddles in Robinson Crusoe's raft.

Friends of Queen's Wood clarification

Lucy Roots, on behalf of Friends of Queen's Wood, writes:

We were very pleased with the generous cover of the Friends of Queen's Wood anniversary in the article and pictures recently published which is appreciated by all our members.

However, I would like to correct one important factual error. We are not a charity and do not have charitable status.

We are a formally constituted voluntary organisation and that means we can access funds/grants from some charities, environmental trusts and the local council.

Jean Simmons - one of the greats

Walter Roberts, Brecknock Road Estate, Islington, writes:

Many of us who belong to the older generation and were captivated by the screen presence of Hollywood Icon Jean Simmons will have regretted her passing a decade ago on the of January 22.

Also wondered perhaps, if speculation that she was born in Lower Holloway or Crouch Hill is true or false, its provenance being shrouded in mystery apart from the fact that she grew up in Cricklewood. Speculation is also rife that her remains are buried in Highgate Cemetery.

If indeed this is true and her earliest abode is still extant here, then I and many others will be gratified to know whether a commemorative plaque has been or will be commissioned as a tribute to her.

Jean Simmons' realistic portrayal of a variety of characters ran the gamut from an ingenue immersed in religious dogma in Guys and Dolls to a virtuoso performance as a sociopathic patrician in the film noir Angel Face.

Regardless of where she was born however she will always be remembered as being one of North London's greatest cultural exports.