Live blog: Camden Council grant planning permission for Heath ponds project

Campaigners are out in force tonight to oppose the Hampstead Heath dams project

Campaigners are out in force tonight to oppose the Hampstead Heath dams project - Credit: Archant

Campaigners have gathered in their droves for the final battle to halt the controversial Hampstead Heath ponds project.

Tonight, Camden Council planners will decide to grant or refuse planning permission for the £15million project.

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22:30: That’s it from us here at the town hall. Thanks for all your tweets and views this evening. A full report from the meeting will be up online soon.

22:15: Planning committee members at Camden town hall have GRANTED planning permission for the Hampstead Heath ponds project. Six members vote for the proposals, two against, and one abstension. Public gallery groans in response to the announcement from chairwoman Cllr Heather Johnson that planning permission for proposals is won.

21:40: We’re getting Tweets in with your views on the controversial Hampstead Heath ponds project.

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@Hampstead_Life wrote: “Engineer quacking on degree of risk proposed to the community as “unacceptable” pure health & safety gone mad #BS! @ImogenGBlake @HamandHigh.”

@Hampstead_Life later tweeted in response to Cllr Sally Gimson’s passionate support of the proposals: “@HamandHigh @SallyGimson A ridiculous spectacle of puffed up pomposity, ghastly to watch this cynical melodramatic vote chasing #oscars.”

However, @Ross_mungavin said in support of the project: “@HamandHigh surely I there’s a risk to human life it’s a no brainer? The ponds would only be closed for a few months! #getthedamjobdone.”

21:35: Planning committee members are now asking questions on the Hampstead Heath ponds proposals before they go to a vote to decide whether to grant or refuse planning permission for the project.

21:20: Highgate Labour councillor Sally Gimson makes a passionate speech in support of the ponds project.

She said: “Dartmouth Park would be devastated in a flood and many of my constituents lives would be at risk.

“With the speed of water coming down the hill and so little time to escape, the risk of drowning would be real.

“The children walking to Parliament Hill School and disabled people living in basements.

“The young family running to get home but can’t run far enough to escape the tsunami.

“Those who live at bottom of the hill feel those who live at top have taken a dismissive attitude.

“They love the Heath. It is nonsense. We love the heath but we don’t want to be killed or injured by water running off it.

“The City of London have taken more notice of those who use the Heath than those who live there.”

21:00: Councillors now begin making their views on the controversial project.

Earlier, as the City of London Corporation made its deputation, two cries of “rubbish!” and “nonsense!” from the public gallery sparked fury from planning committee chairwoman Cllr Heather Johnson.

She ordered them to stop shouting out during deputations, and said: “That’s so rude! No-one cried out during your deputations.”

20:53: Chris Kelly, representing a group of 32 residents living behind the dams, said: “If the dams fail, our lives would be at risk.”

He added: “We strongly support the application.”

20:50: The City of London Corporation finishes its deputation by arguing to the planning committee:

“We are convinced we have a design that we can actually recommend to you and we now just need to get on and do it and we hope you will agree.”

20:48: The City of London Corporation is putting forward its arguments for why Camden Council should grant the project planning permission tonight.

“The risk is far too great,” a spokesperson says.

The public gallery’s reaction?


20.40: Marc Hutchinson, chairman of the Heath&Hampstead Society, speaking on behalf of the Highgate Society and Highgate Conservation Area Advisory Committee, says:

“This is the most important planning decision concerning open space that the council has ever had to consider.”

20:30: Strong objections being made to the Hampstead Heath dams project.

Here are a few of the choice quotes from the large number of people speaking for, on average, about a minute each.

“The dams scheme is a cure for no known disease.”

“Give trees a chance!” “We need a commitment that as women swimmers there will be a place for us to swim”.

20:15: Five-minute break before we hear deputations from campaigners against the Hampstead Heath ponds project

20:09: Independent engineer Robert Mann from AECOM said that between 1 in 10 and 1 in 100 people could die if the Heath’s current dams flooded. The proposed works would take it from “unacceptable” levels to “acceptable”.

20:05: Mr Mann added that: “The degree of risk proposed to the community is unacceptable.”

20:00: An engineer who independently reviewed the strength of the current Heath dams says they are “grossly deficient”.

Robert Mann, of AECOME, told the committee: “When I first came to the dams, my first impression was that I wasn’t going to lose any sleep over them.

“But each one of these dams is quite small.”

He added: “The risk of a breach is forseeable. The risk of their failure is surprisingly high.”

19:42: Team Ham&High has been (trying to) pour through the 330-page agenda for the planning committee meeting tonight, and we’ve spotted some interesting remarks from prestigious national conservation group English Heritage.

The group said it “does not wish to offer any comments” on the ponds project proposals, but wrote to Camden Council to say that it holds “reservations” about the plans to create a new island in the middle of the Model Boating Pond.

It said: “There will be a noticeable changw to the shape of the pond and its surroundings on the western side.

“There is no evident precedent for an island within either chain of ponds so identifying the new island as a positive benefit to the heritage asset appears unjustifiable.”

19:32: The project would close the Mens Pond in November and part of December 2015, the Mixed Pond in January 2016 and the Ladies Pond would be closed between Feburary and May 2016.

Camden Council planning officer Jonathan Markwell tells the 10-strong planning committee that women-only swimming sessions would be provided at the Mens and Mixed Pond during the closure of the Ladies Pond to accommodate those who want to take part in single-sex swimming, such as Jewish or Muslim women.

19:20: Deputations against the ponds project have been extended by five minutes to last 15 minutes instead of the usual 10 because of the “public interest” in the scheme.

19:10: Two of tonight’s planning committee have told the chairwoman that they are members of the Heath and Hampstead Society, leading the campaign against the dams project. They insist they are just “passive members”.

19.00: And we’re off! The public gallery is full and the benches of the council chamber are packed as Camden Council’s Development Control Committee to decide on planning permission for the dams project begins.

18.50: Campaigners against the controversial dams project were ticketed on entry to Camden town hall tonight.

They were met by a hefty security presence on the steps of the hall in Judd Street, St Pancras, as they arrived for the 7pm meeting.

18:45: Read today’s Ham&High story on the run-up to tonight’s meeting below by senior reporter Emily Banks.

Heath lovers are gearing up for a final battle in their historic fight to halt the controversial ponds dams project.

Protesters from the Heath & Hampstead Society and pond user groups will descend on Camden town hall tonight in a desperate attempt to persuade planners to block the £15 million project.

They are backed by a petition which now has 12.465 signatures, the largest ever considered.

The campaigners are fighting to save the Heath from being “permanently disfigured” by two years of construction work to build a huge new dam in the Catchpit area, raise

existing dams by up to 18ft and transform the landscape around some of the ponds.

The City of London Corporation, which manages the Heath, has applied to Camden for planning permission for the engineering work to the 300-year-old ponds, which it says is required by reservoir laws to prevent the dams collapsing and triggering a fatal flood if a “catastrophic” storm hits.

But the Heath & Hampstead Society insists the City has gone far beyond the requirements of reservoir rules and has failed to take proper account of the Hampstead Heath Act, which gives statutory protection to the wild landscape.

As reported in the Ham&High, at the end of November, the

society lost a legal challenge to throw out the scheme through a judicial review.

High Court Judge Mrs Justice Beverly Lang found in favour of the corporation’s case that the Heath’s dams must be able to withstand the most extreme storm imaginable.

Delegations from the Heath and Hampstead Society’s Dam

Nonsense campaign will address the meeting.

Heath & Hampstead Society chairman Marc Hutchinson said: “This is the big one. It is our last chance to stop the scheme”

However despite the petitions and a further 903 protest letters, planning officers recommend the project be approved.

They say the identified harm to the Heath is mitigated by an independent study by AECOM which concludes that the current risk to life from dam failure and flooding is “in the unacceptable zone.”