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Hampstead Heath could face cuts in City of London cash squeeze

Heath's guardians search for £30million in savings as Square Mile projects put pressure on budgets

12 July, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

HAMPSTEAD Heath managers, the City of London, are facing a £30million cash squeeze, prompting fears of cuts to services and staff on the open space, and the spectre of new charges to use facilities on the common land.

The Heath’s consultative committee, made up of groups that represent Heath users, was told at a meeting on Monday night that an annual £6m budget for open spaces is under review as the City seeks to find savings.

In a report to the committee, the City’s finance chiefs said it hoped to find around £30m by 2020 due to “an ambitious programme of activity and projects to deliver a thriving City”.

The report stated that, with huge projects such as a new £250m-plus concert hall at the Barbican and work on markets in the Square Mile ahead, “the financial budget position will become increasingly challenging”.

A trust fund known as City’s Cash paid out £6.3m in 2018 to manage the Heath – and number crunchers are looking at how the Heath’s budget can be managed to contribute to the savings needed.

The City’s report states the review will cover “increasing income, (eg, tax increases, charges the City. They should comment on what the relative balance is and why. “If there is a focus of attention on the Square Mile, it could prejudice the focus on the Heath.”

He echoed other members’ fears that cuts could lead to the Heath being neglected.

“What could happen is important maintenance programmes are abandoned and that will build up the problems,” said Mr Sumray. “There is important capital investment needed, for projects such as resurfacing the running track. It is not a substantial amount in light of other expenditure – £1m to £2m – but it is needed. It is the same with the Lido. I want the Corporation to consider that the things the Corporation has responsibility for outside the Square Mile are as important as things within. In general, the Heath has been well managed and we want to ensure that continues to be the case.”

The Heath and Hampstead Society’s representative, Thomas Radice, said: “We are deeply concerned about any adverse effects on the Heath’s budget because of the Museum of London and Simon Rattle’s new music venue.”

The Highgate Society’s Michael Hammerson said the City needed to be reminded of the Heath’s importance to London as a whole, adding: “Are these projects looking at raising the City’s international standing? If that is done by cutting the Heath budget, it could be very counter-productive.”

Chairwoman Karina Dostalova promised to pass the views of the committee on to members of the City’s Common Council, who will be overseeing the spending review.

A City spokesman said: “We are committed to making the most efficient and effective use of our resources for the benefit of the City, London and the nation as a whole. “In the face of a challenging financial landscape, the City Corporation is determined to maintain high quality services. “The City Corporation is undertaking a fundamental review to ensure we rise to this challenge. Elected members will consider a range of proposals later this year.”

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