Published 17 June, 2014
By DAN CARRIER
THE controversy over plans to radically rebuild the pond banks on Hampstead Heath is heading towards the High Court after the Heath and Hampstead Society clashed with the City of London over whether it was legally obliged to carry out the project.
A public meeting at Parliament Hill School on Thursday evening gave opponents a chance to quiz the City, which manages the Heath.
More than 300 people packed the school hall to hear directors from the City and engineers explain why they thought the scheme was necessary.
The City has said it is legally obliged to push on with the project, which would see ponds in Hampstead and Highgate have their banks raised by up to two-and-a-half metres and new “spillways” created to allow water to flow downstream in case of flash storms.
The Heath and Hampstead Society disputes the claim that the work has to be done – and is now pressing ahead with plans to raise £100,000 to test the decision in front of three senior judges at the Royal Courts of Justice.
In a fractious atmosphere, the City’s director of the built environment, Philip Everett, outlined its case for pushing ahead with the work. He said that three of the Heath ponds were large enough to be covered by the 1975 Reservoirs Act and new legislation meant new dams were needed.
He said: “We have done our own studies that show the ponds are at risk and, if they did collapse, people living downstream would be at risk of dying. We are a responsible authority. If a flood occurred and our dams collapsed, our position would be untenable.”
He added that, while the City had followed the advice of a government-appointed engineer, all work had been peer-reviewed and the same conclusion reached – that increasingly violent weather patterns made a flash flood more likely.
Mr Everett, who faced hostile questioning from an audience overwhelmingly against the scheme, added that if the City did not act the government had the legal power to force the work to start.
Giles Brookes, of building contractor BAM Nuttall, outlined how it would minimise the impact of the work.
He described how it would use an “aqua-dam” – essentially a giant plastic bag that floats into the ponds and then fills up – to allow engineers to drain one side of a pond but leave water elsewhere. He described how a giant vacuum cleaner would suck mud from the bottom of the ponds.
But Geoff Goss, the Highgate Men’s Pond Association chairman, said: “We are totally opposed to these works, as they based on spurious criteria. It is based on the total elimination of dam collapse. We ask: is this criterion of risk realistic?”
Heath and Hampstead Society member Helen Marcus, who has helped mastermind the anti-dams campaign, said: “It was encouraging to discover that the overwhelming majority of the large audience shared the Heath and Hampstead Society view that the City’s case for these plans, which will disfigure the ponds landscape, is entirely unconvincing and must be challenged.
“Particularly striking was the number of people who called for some sort of independent legal adjudication on the matter. We have set up an appeal fund to raise money to take the matter to judicial review.”