Ham&High letters: The Ponds, disabled parking, Midland Crescent and road closures

Swimmers and sunbathers enjoying the hot weather in the mixed bathing ponds of Hampstead Heath. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Images

Swimmers and sunbathers enjoying the hot weather in the mixed bathing ponds of Hampstead Heath. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Images - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

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

The Ponds

Nina Jacoby-Owen, human rights lawyer and member of the Kenwood Ladies Pond Association, writes:

I am concerned at the changes that have been imposed on the Pond communities across Hampstead Heath since lockdown was lifted, and the anti-democratic nature of the “consultation/discussion” process.

Under Section 12 of the Hampstead Heath Act 1871 – which remains in force today - the body responsible for managing the Heath (currently the City of London Corporation) is obliged to “forever keep the Heath open, unenclosed, and un-built on, except as regards such parts thereof as are at the passing of this Act enclosed or built on, and shall by all lawful means prevent, resist, and abate all encroachments and attempted encroachments on the Heath, and protect the Heath, and preserve it as an open space, and resist all proceedings tending to the enclosure or appropriation for any purpose of any part thereof”.

From observing the changes at the women’s pond, my correspondence with City of London Corporation (“the City”) personnel, and attending a Zoom conference call with City personnel and Pond community representatives on September 14, it feels increasingly clear that the City intends to monetise the Ponds.

I attended the discussion on Zoom and was given the opportunity to put questions to Anne Fairweather, the chair of the Hampstead Heath Management Committee. I posed the following questions:

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1. How can people use the machines to make voluntary donations if the machines are broken?

2. Why won’t the City consider a trial of their proposed Option 2 (encourage people to buy season tickets, encourage people to make voluntary donations) and give the Ponds a reasonable chance to bridge the alleged funding gap, before they impose a regime that entirely destroys the unique culture of the Ponds?

3. Why does Ms Fairweather maintain and repeat that this way forward was agreed by all on March 11, when the Pond communities repeatedly confirm that it wasn’t?

Ms Fairweather did not address these questions. Arguably, were the City genuinely seeking to work with the communities, they would:

a) address the fact that the machines for voluntary contributions were broken; and

b) give the Ponds a reasonable and meaningful chance to galvanise the swimmers to raise funds.

The fact that Ms Fairweather and other City representatives did not address these points leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that the City has no intention of working with the communities to preserve the sanctuary and culture that has existed there for many years – and is protected by law.

The issue here is whether or not we’re happy to live in a society where people can only access nature, sanctuary, community and have access to wellness resources, if they can either afford it or are made to prove that they can’t afford it – which is an affront to human dignity. Further, people now have to register and wear a wristband that collects data, whether they want to, or not - raising important questions about rights and state intrusion.

Currently, people are losing their jobs, mental health crises and suicides are on the rise. The City needs to revaluate their priorities. Nature is balm for the soul. Unfettered access to the Heath is enshrined in law.

Disabled parking bays a ‘lifeline’

Mary Langan, chair person, Severe and Complex Needs Support Group, writes:

Will Coles (letters) believes there is a “culture war” over low traffic neighbourhoods and new cycle lanes.

His contribution is to launch a culture war against people with disabilities, implying that they misrepresent their reliance on parking bays and contribute to traffic congestion.

As the mother of a young man with autism and severe learning disabilities, I can tell him that parking bays are a lifeline for many people with disabilities. He claims that the disabled do not need parking bays because they are unable to drive. But that is precisely the problem – because of their mobility problems they are reliant on carers or family members to enable them to get out and about in the community.

Among our families, there have been a number of problems arising from parking restrictions imposed during the pandemic lockdown. Drivers have had to drop people with disabilities some distance from their destination and then help them to walk the remaining distance and with great difficulty.

Mr Coles believes that everybody should get on their bike or walk or take public transport. He is fortunate to have all these options, but they are not available to many people with disabilities or frail elders and their families.

Midland Crescent could thrive again

Dr Rod Burgess, Hampstead, full address supplied, writes:

I recently came across an illustration of the former Midland Crescent on the Finchley Road by the celebrated artist Cliff Rowe.The destruction of this fine example of Victorian railway architecture and a distinctive landmark on a major London artery remains one of the most disheartening and boorish acts of public vandalism committed by the Camden authorities in recent years.

By the late 90s the attractions of the Crescent depicted by Rowe had become tarnished by the same pattern of neglect and disrepair used to justify the demolition of part of the neighbouring shopping parade for the construction of the O2 Centre. In a letter to the Ham&High (April 3, 1998) I argued against the proposed demolition of the Crescent and for the ‘restoration to its former glory and the conversion to public use (perhaps as a green space or community market) of the railway land to which it gives access’.The demolition went ahead. Given the physical difficulties of the site for conventional private sector developments, the result has been an abandoned site and a stretch of forbidding fencing which residents and visitors have had to tolerate for over 20 years.The only use ever found for the site was a massive electronic billboard thankfully removed a few years ago.

The question posed in my 1998 letter, ‘Could we be told what plans exist for the Midland Crescent site?’ and its suggested use as a public space for small scale economic and cultural activities seem to be even more apposite now given the long period of inactivity and the employment difficulties in the services sector arising from the Covid pandemic.

Perhaps Camden Council should consider taking the site back into public ownership and develop it along the lines suggested. A competition to find an imaginative architectural design faithful to the old Crescent and the uses suggested might help generate interest. Better still would be a reconstruction of the old Crescent using the original plans, if they still exist.

Still no progress on library lift

George Stern, Eton Court, Highgate, writes:

As a long-standing resident of Shepherds Hill and regular user of Highgate Library I am very disappointed that the library has still not been made accessible for the disabled.

Elderly and disabled people may well have wanted to attend the Holocaust Memorial event at the library in January this year, but the event was inaccessible to them because of the steep staircase. A lift has been talked about by the Highgate Neighbourhood Forum and Haringey Council for years and yet no progress has been made.

It’s now time for the council’s library officer to make a statement about the forthcoming installation of a lift.

Driving is the only option for many

A Hampstead resident, full name and address supplied, writes:

I am getting very tired of the constant tirade from well-meaning people exorting us to walk, cycle or take public transport instead of driving.

It’s beginning to sound like a permanent echo of Norman Tebbitt in 1981 - who thought that “getting on your bike” could solve unemployment problems. There are a considerable number of us who are not physically equipped - either through age or infirmity - to utilise the soles of our feet in this way, and the prospect of relying on expensive and unrealiable public transport (especially in inclement weather) is unappealling to say the least.

Might I suggest that those keen to get us out of our cars should seek the views of people less well-equipped physically and tone down their stridency.

Closure of vital road must cease

Roy Walker, Camden, full address supplied, writes:

I have just seen that Jamestown Road between Arlington Road and Camden High Street has been sign posted as closed to traffic.

It is utterly disgraceful and shameful that Camden has used the cover of the pandemic to implement closure of a vital road without consulting any of those who live and work in this area.

Camden have shown by this action that they have total and utter contempt for both residents and businesses in this area who will now be seriously adversely affected by this disgraceful action.

Life is already very hard, without Camden impinging on the free movement of local people.

This closure will now push a lot of traffic onto other local roads in the vicinity, making them far more congested than they already are, given that in these times it is necessary for safety reasons for people especially those who are either shielding themselves or vulnerable people, to use their cars.

The concentration of traffic onto other roads will have a serious negative effect, both in the creation of unnecessary distances travelled, traffic jams and the pollution resulting from stationary vehicles trapped in these traffic jams.

I call upon you, as local councillors to immediately reverse this disgraceful and contemptuous action implemented by Camden Council.