Hampstead Heath dams project to be ‘significantly’ scaled down

Jeremy Simons, Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Hampstead Heath Management Committee

Jeremy Simons, Chairman of the City of London Corporations Hampstead Heath Management Committee - Credit: Polly Hancock

The controversial Hampstead Heath dams project will be scaled down after claims that up to 1,000 people could be killed in the event of a freak storm were found to be inaccurate.

Current view of the model boating pond dam

Current view of the model boating pond dam - Credit: Archant

Experts have found that the scale of flooding into Hampstead, Dartmouth Park and Gospel Oak would be “significantly lower” than first thought.

The report comes after the City of London Corporation, which manages the Heath, ordered an overhaul of the £15million dams project and bowed to calls from conservationists for a review of the risk assessment for the scheme.

Project engineer Dr Andy Hughes, from design firm Atkins, said: “The scope of the work will be significantly less.

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“It gives us more options to find a solution that all the stakeholders will be happy with and that’s sympathetic to the Heath.

“The impact at any particular dam site will be less and I am hoping that we won’t actually have to touch very sensitive sites like the Bird Sanctuary Pond at all, whereas the (previous) Haycock report suggested it should be obliterated.”

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Ian Harrison, chairman of a group of Heath users which will help shape the design of the project, said: “I think this is very encouraging news.

“I am increasingly optimistic that we will be able to find solutions which enable the City to meet its obligations without significant adverse impact on the Heath.”

This is the latest move by Heath bosses to distance themselves from previous plans for “municipal” dams on the larger ponds on the Hampstead and Highgate chains.

The plans were ditched last year amid widespread criticism.

New project leader Peter Wilder, a strategic landscape architect, has pledged to soften the design of the scheme.

Jeremy Simons, chairman of the City’s Hampstead Heath Management Committee, said: “The results of the study are welcome news for Hampstead Heath and for the communities who live around it.

“The corporation has always been determined to carry out the minimum amount of work required in a way that is sympathetic to the Heath, while ensuring the risk to people who live downstream is reduced.

“This new study is a first step in achieving these goals and we must now look at potential solutions.”

The City claims it is bound by law to carry out the work to safeguard against flooding from a tropical storm – the risk of which is calculated at once every 10,000 years. The Heath and Hampstead Society is questioning the project’s legal premise and has enlisted the services of one of the country’s top QCs to review the case.