Ham&High letters: Heath Ponds, Wells Court, the bridge and housing

Swimmers enjoying the mixed bathing ponds of Hampstead Heath. Picture: PA

Swimmers enjoying the mixed bathing ponds of Hampstead Heath. Picture: PA - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

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

The ponds and who they belong to

Ana Truman, full address supplied, writes:

Further to your correspondent John McPartlin's letter of February 12 about the Hampstead Heath Ponds there are some glaring errors which need attention.

He says: "...these amenities are facing problems not because users will not pay to enjoy them but because of their ownership [...] responsibility for of their upkeep had formerly always resided with the GLC, but this was removed some years ago, however, when Mrs Thatcher gave them instead to the unelected City of London Corporation."

This is misleading. The City of London Corporation only manages the Heath and its ponds, it does not own them. Mrs Thatcher secured an agreement for oversight of the Heath's management with the City of London - of which the Corporation is the governing body - after the disbandment of the GLC.

The City of London itself and its sister entities the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man are owned by a Royal Charter and held in a special tax trust. Hampstead Heath is part of that tax trust. In the last 50 years more than a dozen court cases have upheld this trust's status along with its charter protecting the Heath as an asset for people's benefit.

At present the City of London Corporation's voluntary swimmers levy does not make so much as a dent in the costs involved in running the Ponds. Last year nearly 700,000 individuals used the Ponds but only contributed a paltry £67,000 towards their upkeep.

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The 'something for nothing' brigade that does not pay to swim are selfish and unrealistic to expect a proper Ponds management without making proper contributions for usage. They should take a look at the prices of swimming in the capital's other major freshwater facility the Serpentine in Hyde Park where a daily ticket costs just under £5.

Mary Powell, Tottenham, writes:

I write in response to recent disinformation concerning the income collected at the Hampstead Heath bathing ponds.

The City of London portrays swimmers as dishonest or entitled, for not paying to swim. I swim daily at the Ladies' Pond and have taken an active part in recent discussions with the City of London concerning their future management.

Until 2005 the swimming ponds were free of charge, and some swimmers still firmly believe that the ponds should remain so. The Heath is effectively common land, saved in its current form for the people of London since the 19th century. Swimming at the ponds is not the same as swimming at an enclosed leisure centre and is more akin to swimming at a lifeguarded beach.

That said, there are clearly costs associated with running the ponds, not least for the very skilled lifeguards who preside over them. A compromise in which the 'charges' were not enforced rigorously and 'contributions' were encouraged has existed since 2005. The City of London cites an erroneous figure of a 3.7 per cent collection rate on charges. Based on figures provided to the swimmer groups by the City it looks as if about 10pc of what might be charged is collected, with each swim costing about £1.14 to provide.

The City makes it difficult to pay too. The online payment option is poorly publicised and not user friendly. The payment machines are regularly out of order and do not give change.

In addition a private company is paid to maintain and empty the faulty machines, approx £13K per year. The contribution posts have from time to time been left unemptied and then broken into overnight. It is as if the City does not want to take our money.

Instead of ramping up charges to a level which will turn the ponds into an exclusive health club, the City should try to collect the current charges more effectively and work with the swimmer groups to encourage payment in a more efficient manner. The Heath and the swimming ponds belong to all Londoners and should not become prohibitively expensive for people who live in the less affluent areas of neighbouring boroughs. Swimming there should be accessible to the residents of Broadwater Farm as much as to those of Fitzroy Farm, or Holly Street Estate as much as those from Holly Lodge Estate.

The City of London, which is also the financial centre of London, seems to be poor at both maths and collecting money.

Who would have thought it?

The heart of Hampstead Village

Cllr Stephen Stark, Hampstead Town ward, writes:

Wells Court on Oriel Place in the heart of Hampstead Village was previously sheltered accommodation for the elderly in Hampstead.

Camden Council ran the building down until it was not in a fit state for use. In 2015 Camden Council moved the residents out, and sold off Wells Court to a developer. I opposed the sale and witnessed the distress of elderly residents being decanted. I have fond memories of baking biscuits with my son and both of us taking them to Wells House and spending time with residents.

The developer refurbished the property, built a roof extension and a new side extension. Wells Court is today a collection of one, two and three bedroom properties. Disappointingly the flats were not sold or let to provide new housing stock into the market but offered for short term lets.

I have been informed that the owners of the building may be offering in part the redeveloped residential units at Wells Court as Airbnb lets. Labour Controlled Camden Council are quite rightly concerned about Airbnb lettings but what restrictive covenants did they put on the title which they sold to prevent or restrict this? Are all the required planning, HMO licences and other consents in place?

Airbnb lettings do not increase housing stock in an area, they don't help build a community, they don't give people an opportunity to settle in an area, work in or commute from an area, invest in an area and they won't enable children to grow up in an area and go to local schools. They only benefit some businesses. There are other issues surrounding their regulation - I understand that they will not pay business rates.

I am investigating further as it would be disappointing to see a substantial property in the heart of Hampstead, formerly owned by Camden Council, being sold off for subsequent use as Airbnb lets.

The bridge

Em Lethbridge, Islington, full address supplied, writes:

I am writing to defend the suicide prevention barriers on Archway Bridge, or 'Suicide Bridge', in response to concerning attempts by the Highgate Society and others to replace them with less comprehensively preventative but more aesthetically pleasing barriers.

The anger some residents clearly feel about the look of the existing barriers cannot be compared to the devastating traumas that have unfolded there over the years. Too many have lost their lives or attempted to do so, too many have lost loved ones, and too many have been witnesses to scenes that will haunt them forever. Were the structure to ever be made less safe, these tragedies would inevitably continue as they have for decades.

My horror at discovering appeals to replace the barrier has compelled me to share my own small story of witnessing suicide there, in the hope it will encourage others to reconsider their priorities in this case. I will think of that individual, their family and friends every day. I will never be able to change the fact that were the barriers present then, I may have succeeded in stopping them and had more time to talk them down. Research shows even a small obstacle can make all the difference in suicide prevention. To many of us, the erection of the barriers brings comfort, knowing that they provide a life-saving service to our community.

I plead with readers to recognise that whenever they walk across that bridge, however obtrusive they find the structure, it is serving them too. As I wrote to the council: "I was the last witness of suicide on that bridge, and my reason for opposing the application is because I intend to remain the last."


John Stratton, Thurlow Road, Hampstead, writes:

In relation to the proposed development of HMOs to replace the Best Western Hotel at Childs Hill, I am astounded at Cllr Anne Clarke's negative and sarcastic comments about the scheme. Surely with her Labour background and the needs of young people, those either sleeping on the streets or in unsuitable B&B accommodation, she should support this scheme as an excellent example of humanitarian ideals. As for "not solving the housing crisis" it would take at least 115 people out of desperate circumstances and long term misery whilst they get their lives together. Surely that is more important than the other issues she mentions. As for traffic, with short term low-rent lets, it is unlikely that most of the potential residents would have cars, and the location is on well served trunk bus routes.

I would certainly not vote for her as a replacement for Andrew Dismore who is an excellent London Assembly member who has fought long and hard against Tory Government and mayor's housing policies which have promoted luxury developments resulting in affordable housing shortages and giving rise to the need for schemes such as this which deserve to succeed.

And in relation to homelessness, instead of inviting the great and the good to Next Meal's charity launch at the House of Commons, why did the organisers not invite a large number of homeless people instead. This would be a far more effective way of spreading the word about Next Meal rather than relying on the unlikely use of GPS on their mobile phones. I find this concept incredible and unlikely. How many homeless actually have mobile phones? Surely these are the most desirable targets for thieves and sleeping on the streets is not exactly an insurance against being robbed. Witness the number of scooter robberies recently, usually in daylight.

Britannia Junction

Lester May, Reachview Close, Camden, writes:

I have lived in Camden Town for over half my life and have seen how the same sections of important roads are re-designed time and again.

TfL is about to undertake improvements to Britannia Junction yet only in the past few years were other major 'improvements' undertaken.

It's a similar story for the A5202, Royal College Street, perhaps the only one-way, single-carriage A class road in the country, itself re-designed every few years.

It's probably much the same across our islands - streets are 'improved' just years after they were last 'improved'. All this costs taxpayers a small fortune, yet authorities consistently claim to be short of money. These roadworks also cause considerable inconvenience.

It's hard to have faith in our transport and highways planners when they carry on like this but, to be fair, theirs is a very public business.

There are probably many equivalents in other departments of our public bodies where the re-design or re-organisation of something out-of-sight happens with unnecessary frequency.

Camden Town's Britannia Junction is a metaphor for Britannia entire. Boris Johnson's cabinet must get a grip and stop public bodies wasting money like this.