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Now Hampstead Heath users group faces the axe

Consultative group could merge in management overhaul

06 October, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

A SHAKE up of how Hampstead Heath is run could spell the end for a committee which takes guidance from regular users of the treasured open space.

Heath managers, the City of London Corporation, commissioned constitutional expert Lord Lisvane to look at how the it manages its affairs.

And the peer has made 90 recommendations, which include shutting down the Heath’s consultative committee.

Its work would be merged with bodies overseeing other spaces in London. The possible changes come after a turbulent year in which the City has faced ongoing protests over new compulsory swimming charges at the ponds.

Richard Sumray, who represents sports groups using the Heath, said: “To lose that sense of proper, effective local engagement would distance the community and create a whole range of problems in its place. It would lead to a deterioration in relationships and management, and in turn would then be hard to find voices to support the City’s work on the Heath.”

Mr Sumray added the current committee ensured Heath users feel they have some input into how it is cared for.

He said: “Not everything advised is taken up, like the swimming charges, but over the years, the Corporation have gone along with the committee’s views. “It helps develop that strong sense that the Heath is the community’s, and not run solely by an external body.”

A City of London report says Lord Lisvane was “encouraged to take a comprehensive, critical, warts-and-all look”, and that his findings call into question the efficiency – and in some cases, legitimacy – of the City’s 130 committees that manage everything from the Heath to Thames bridges to private schools.

Mary Powell, the vice chair of the Kenwood Ladies Pond Association Mary Powell said the City’s claims that it managed the Heath democratically would be further undermined if the recommendations were implemented.

She said: “Decision making will be even less accountable than now.  It will be too far removed from the people who use the Heath.  This reinforces the impression that the City of London Corporation is a feudal relic.”

Due to the stark effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the City’s income, Lord Lisvane questioned whether the City should run a number of services and places, opening the prospect that assets such as the Parliament Hill Lido could be outsourced to a leisure group.

Lord Lisvane said: “The Corporation is responsible for a bewildering extent and variety of activities. It must prompt the question of whether everything needs to be owned by the Corporation, and, if it does, whether everything needs to be run by the Corporation.”

Calling for a “radical approach to reform,” to tackle the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the peer, a crossbencher in the House of Lords, warned: “The Corporation has already suffered considerably.”

A City spokesperson said: “Lord Lisvane’s independent report is far-reaching and wide-ranging. It is now for elected Members to consider which should be taken forward. We will always take decisions in an open and transparent manner, and we will ensure we are accountable to the public for these decisions.”

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