CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Heath users deserve real consultation

12 November, 2020

Charging for using the Heath ponds and the ‘cash shortage’ claims are puzzling

• ALTHOUGH Hampstead Heath is promoted by the City of London Corporation as being managed as a charity, is it not a matter of fact that the money to run the Heath has for many years, largely if not wholly, been provided by central government under a scheme known as the “City offset” designed to provide finance for Hampstead Heath for discharge of it responsibilities under the 1871 Hampstead Heath Act? Funds which would otherwise go to the Treasury?

This makes the “cash shortage” justification for charging for use of its ponds for the non-sporting, leisure, pastime of swimming, doubly puzzling: a reported £2.6billion in capital of charitable funds plus some reported £10million annually in “City offset” income, made available specifically for the upkeep of Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest?

In addition, the previous managers, the GLC / London Residuary Body, bequeathed a large capital to the city corporation which, I understand, it still possesses.

Moreover the previous chair of the Highgate Men’s Pond Association noted that spending on the Heath in recent years, had been reduced in real terms.

Public consultation of Heath users is necessary because it was purchased for the use of the people by public “crowd-funding”.

But it must be more than a propped up, empty, formality; more than a stage device to achieve a pre-ordained outcome, devised within the city corporation.

Recall the criticism of the charging “consultation”. Remember that the chair of the Hampstead Heath Consultative Committee refused to allow a vote, when it clearly, overwhelmingly, favoured a joint motion from the ponds associations, contrary to the corporation’s proposal for compulsory charging, contrary to the 1871 act.

How, then, are we to receive assurances that: “we will always listen to the views of the public and our stakeholders and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. And will ensure we are accountable to the public for these decisions” – with reassurance, or incredulity?

Fine words for buttering parsnips? Where is the supporting evidence?

The disturbing culture within the city corporation, revealed in Lord Lisvane’s report, adds little encouragement. That included a fear of full parliamentary scrutiny of its affairs, dissuading him from proposing radical reform of its troubled governance.

There is also recent criticism by a national police spokesman of the city corporation’s handling of the national “Action Fraud” hotline, following a Times newspaper investigation which reported users being misled and unknowingly mocked by operatives.

ROBERT SUTHERLAND SMITH
Chairman, United Swimmers Association

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