Ham&High letters: The Ponds, Heath House, Hornsey Lane Bridge and future proofing libraries

New pair of swans at Hampstead Heath's Model Boating Pond. Picture: RON VESTER

New pair of swans at Hampstead Heath's Model Boating Pond. Picture: RON VESTER - Credit: Archant

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

Some harmony on calm Pond waters

Louisa Green and Ron Vester, Hampstead Heath, write:

This week saw the surprise arrival of a brand new pair of swans and their one cygnet to the Model Boating Pond on the Highgate side of the Heath!

They are not ringed so we have no way of knowing where they have come from, and they seem like a young couple as their beak colour is still quite pale in comparison to the Hampstead pair. Our best explanation is they have probably recently lost their territory to an older and stronger pair, and have therefore had to find a new home. Their cygnet, whom Louisa has named Concorde, is a phenomenal flyer, which is ever more impressive given the strong winds we have had recently. But, in the short time they have been on the Heath, the new family have already had an altercation with the Widow Swan, who resides on Highgate No 1 pond.

On Monday morning the new pair were seen trying to drown her after she flew into their territory, but she was safely returned back to her pond on Monday afternoon by Swan Sanctuary volunteer, Gill Walker. We will be keeping a watchful eye, but it's so lovely to think that we may have two mating pairs on the Heath this year.

We are trying to think of a suitable name for the new pair - suggestions welcome.

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Charges: fair and appropriate?

Ana Truman, full address supplied, writes:

Further to the subject of Hampstead Heath Ponds management and ownership I see your correspondent John McPartlin (Readers Letters, Ham&High) still labours under the misapprehension that they are publicly owned - "People's Ponds" - and as such exempt from appropriate maintenance costs by users - a classic pie-in-the-sky stand.

He cites their management during the GLC era but fails to mention that during that time their running costs were paid for largely by an annual maintenance grant to the GLC from the Royal Parks - via its ultimate owner the Crown Estate.

This topped up the minuscule GLC levy which never covered more than 10 per cent of the annual Heath maintenance bill. A tendering process ordered by the Thatcher government saw the Crown Estate unable to compete with financial submissions from the Corporation of the City of London which then took over looking after the Heath.

Today Royal Parks still manages that other body of water so beloved by the public, the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park - where swimming charges of just under £5 per day exist.

Hampstead Heath continues to be owned via a special tax trust by the same Royal Charter which owns, inter alia, the City of London, the Crown Dependencies of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. It's ultimate owner is therefore the Monarch.

In 2010 the Royal Charter secured further legal powers to permanently reinforce the ban of all Heath development irrespective of existing historic covenants on pockets of surrounding land claiming rights to development, and to take responsibility for proactive Heath protection. These additional powers saw the City of London Corporation spend £17 million on Heath flood defences - something that luddites in the Heath and Hampstead Society opposed bitterly in their failed High Court lawsuit as "unnecessary".

Nobody - least of all Pond users - was billed for this essential expenditure which has secured the safety of the Ponds for generations to come as well as ensuring protection for thousands of residents living in flood-threatened neighbourhoods nearby.

Asking Heath Ponds swimmers to contribute a reasonable amount to use the facilities is thus more than fair and appropriate. Mr McPartlin's comparison of such charges to the "poll tax" is just plain daft.

Mary Powell, Tottenham, writes:

I write in response to the City of London's preferred options for charging to swim on Hampstead Heath, finally revealed on February 24, 2020. This is a shotgun consultation, as the Hampstead Heath Management Committee looks likely to rubber stamp the proposals on March 11, 2020.

In short, charging will be enforced at the gates of each swimming pond by Heath Rangers, with non-payers barred. The cost of full price day tickets will go up by 100 per cent (to £4) and by 140pc (to £2.40) for concessionary tickets. For the forthcoming year only, season ticket prices are frozen. A hardship fund is proposed for those who cannot afford the concessionary rate.

The City is being very optimistic about its ability to implement this regime by May 2, 2020 when the summer season starts. All three ponds have porous boundaries which cannot be secured in time for the new charging regime, either with higher gates and fences or by hedge planting and dead-hedging. Indeed some existing fences are damaged and there are areas of the Ladies' Pond boundary too waterlogged to take any planting. It is not clear how the back gate to the Ladies' Pond will be maintained or secured; it currently provides rapid access for the lifeguards to first aid incidents on the Heath.

Furthermore Heath Rangers will be expected to enforce charging and prevent access by non-payers. How exactly are they expected to do that in the face of potential hostility, never mind the gaps in the fences? Has their workplace safety been considered? Have full risk assessments been carried out? This should take into account lone worker safety and cash handling at very least.

The City will be relying on the efforts of lifeguards and rangers to implement the new regime, and in doing so will presumably have negotiated with them about changes to their duties.

The City has also failed to explain how it will prevent increased swimming in the non-designated ponds if access is barred at the swimming ponds. This will inevitably lead to greater risks to the public which Heath staff will also be required to manage at some risk to their own safety.

By seeking to increase income and reduce its "subsidy" for swimming the City is behaving counter-intuitively. Prices will be raised which will reduce the overall number of swimmers at the same time as more staff and infrastructure will be needed to enforce the new regime. The City could instead choose to work with the swimmers' associations to encourage payment and make payment methods easier, then review the situation in a year or two. Instead they seem intent on punishing swimmers for non-payment caused largely by their own ineptness in collecting income.

Save historic Heath House

Francoise Findlay, full address supplied, writes:

At the top of Hampstead, in a most prominent position facing Whitestone Pond, sits a very important eighteenth century house, Heath House.

The house is listed and was originally the home of Samuel Hoare, a banker and philanthropist who met there with William Wilberforce to discuss anti-slavery and Elizabeth Fry to talk of prison reform.

The house is of historical importance.

For the past six years or more it has been allowed to deteriorate and appears now to be a derelict shell with no roof.

Meanwhile developers have built luxury houses in the gardens behind. The Heath and Hampstead Society appear not to be active in saving this house and soon there will be an argument that it needs to be demolished for safety reasons.

Am I alone in caring?

Helping people heal at bridge

S T Fielder, Hornsey Lane, Highgate, writes:

I agree with recent letters saying leave Hornsey Lane Bridge's anti-suicide fences alone.

But I also like the suggestion to paint them dark green (anti-climb paint, of course). I'd like to see it done by crowdfunding community volunteers, and - when the paint's dry - every railing decorated with fresh flowers tied to them.

I'd like to see flowers tied there every May Day Holiday - a little festival at the bridge, road closed for an afternoon, peopling come from miles around to tie flowers to the railings. A chance for the place to heal, a chance for those who lost loved ones there to honour their memory with flowers, a chance for those new to the area to help establish a positive new atmosphere of colour and healing to the bridge.

I hope to crowdfund the painting of the railings, and am happy to pledge the first £250 (surely this project can't top a grand? A few dozen tins of paint, brushes, groundsheets, and a professional painter to help oversee the project?)

Who's up for it? Please get in touch with me on forcedlilacs@hotmail.com if you'd like to help take these idea further, particularly in helping make the painting a community effort and getting a flower event off the ground?

Future proofing our vital libraries

Cllr Jonathan Simpson, Camden cabinet member for promoting culture and community services, writes:

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting Kentish Town Library to celebrate its reopening following an extensive upgrade.

Libraries are a key part of all our communities, offering a space where people can meet, learn and discover new skills.

That's why we're committed to keeping them open and future proofing them for generations.

After speaking with residents in Kentish Town, we knew they wanted a library which included more space to study, access to the latest technology and spaces the community can get together and that's exactly what we've done.

Library users are now benefiting from a community space and study areas that have been refurbished as well as improved digital facilities, including better and faster computers.

The upgrades are part of our £1.5m investment to ensure Camden's libraries continue to thrive in the future, but the work doesn't end here and these enhanced facilities are just the start - we'll be working in other libraries over the course of the next year to invest in them as digital and community spaces.