Questions posed over �10million Heath ponds plan

STRINGENT new laws the City of London claim are compelling them to spend �10million upgrading Hampstead Heath’s system of dams may not come into force, the Ham&High can reveal.

The Corporation announced in January that strict new laws mean it has to transform the face of the Heath to upgrade the dams at all the ponds to prevent a catastrophic flood which will put lives in danger – the risk of which is calculated at one in 10,000.

But this week the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) told the Ham&High that the law has not yet been implemented, and secondary legislation concerning reservoirs has not even been written.

A spokeswoman for Defra said: “The part of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 that refers to reservoirs has not yet been implemented and will not be until 2012.

“Therefore there is currently no indication of what the legalisation might mean for places like Hampstead Heath.”

The �10million upgrade will see work done on every pond, putting the Heath through years of upheaval and excavation and closing all the ponds.

Residents and Heath-lovers have been under the impression that the new laws, which were the last to be passed under the former Labour government, are already signed and sealed – but any law which has not had a commencement order, such as this one, can be stopped at any point.

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Simon Briscoe, from the Highgate Society, said: “This is quite extraordinary because it seemed that it was all done and dusted – I was convinced the legislation had gone through. It seems quite inconceivable that the new government will start this when there are so many bigger worries.

“My suspicion is that the corporation seems too keen to spend �10million. They will lose public spirit if this is not necessary.

“The chances of a catastrophic flood are also extremely slim and they are in the process of making cuts to the Heath and staff are possibly going to be made redundant so why are they financing a large capital project for which there is no legal obligation. It is unbelievable.

“The corporation can say that the law will come through and we might as well do it now, but why do it now in a time of financial difficulty – why not wait.”

Heath bosses have now insisted that even if there was no legislation the work would still need to be done because the chance of a dam overflowing is once in every 25 years – and they are liable under common law if homes are damaged.

They are also required to upgrade three of the ponds under the 1975 Flood and Water Management Act but decided to do them all in light of the new 2010 laws which they believe will definitely come in, despite a consultation still due to take place.

Chairman of the Hampstead Heath management committee Michael Welbank said: “There are dams on the Heath which fall into the high risk category. I find it an amazing statement from Defra and they were misguided in that statement.

“We were advised to and decided we would go straight for the 2010 requirements so that is what we are doing. If we get to a year’s time and the government decide they are not going to go ahead with it then we might revise our ideas. But we think it is right to go ahead given the high risk situation of the Heath’s dams.”

The Heath has been working with panel engineer Professor Andy Hughes, who is writing the secondary legislation concerning reservoirs and is a consultant who advises Defra.

He said: “The city is doing a very responsible thing. They are dealing with the three reservoirs and pre-empting the new act coming in and avoiding going through the same thing again. It means they find the most effective solution with the least possible impact on the Heath.”

He added: “I do not care whether there is legislation or not I would advise the city to do the works anyway.”