Michael Welbank obituary: Hampstead Heath boss who fell in love with the Heath as a teen and never left
PUBLISHED: 16:53 25 September 2020 | UPDATED: 16:53 25 September 2020
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When Highgate schoolboy Michael Welbank ran cross-country on Hampstead Heath as a teenager, he’d have been hard-pressed to anticipate the way his life would come to revolve around those 790 acres of north London.
Michael died on September 15 aged 90 having worked as a hugely successful architect and town planner, but also having bridged an often prickly Hampstead divide: He was chair of the City of London Corporation’s Heath Management Committee while also an active member of the Heath and Hampstead Society.
In his City Councilman role, he was the man ultimately in charge of seeing the controversial Ponds Project – which saw dams constructed to protect against flooding, despite opposition in much of north London.
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But to friends and family Michael – was made an MBE in 2013 – was a great host and an evangelist for the Heath’s pleasures.
His son William told this newspaper: “He was very passionate about Hampstead Heath. We’d often go for family walks there, He had a lifelong love of the Heath, it was always at the heart of things, and he was passionate about improving it.”
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“He also loved meeting people and holding house parties.”
William, the middle of three children along with Julian and Katherine, added: “As a boy, he did cross-country running on the Heath and he carried on for many years.”
Michael also served as the president of the Royal Town Planning Institute a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University, and master of the Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects.
He studied at UCL, and his work saw him travel in places as diverse as Chad and Lebanon. After his wife died, he threw himself into civic life, and in 2009 – in his role as chair of the CoLC’s heath committee – wrote columns in the Ham&High.
Michael, who lived for much of his life in South Hill Park, described being made an MBE as a “great privilege”, while writing in this newspaper he summed up the appeal of Hampstead Heath, writing: “To be aware of where Hampstead Heath stands [...] can provide a contentment to the human spirit; it reminds Londoners of their continuing relationship to the land and is a strong enough feature to survive the impact of future development.”
He is survived by his three children.
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