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Revealed: Hampstead Heath guardians spent £315k on ‘wining and dining’

Perk of free four-course lunches – with wine– for council members is challenged as treasured space turns to mud

04 February, 2021 — By Dan Carrier

Hampstead Heath has seen pathways turn to mud after increased footfall

THE £2.6billion investment fund which the City of London uses to pay for the upkeep of Hampstead Heath is also footing the bill for slap-up meals for councillors.

The revelation that £315,000 has been spent on “wining and dining” has been contrasted with the City’s decision to slash its spending on maintaining the Heath – at a time when more footfall has turned some areas into muddy quagmires.

And this week it emerged that the City has at least discussed the idea of charging to use the toilets on the Heath, having already moved to raise swimming fees and begin dog licensing.

All of this has been contrasted with the spending on hospitality at the lavish Guildhall members’ club in Gresham Street.

The scale of that bill has led City councillor Graham Harrower, who was elected to the Court of Common Council in 2005, to call for an end to the free lunches for fellow members.

“Why should the public have to pay more when the Court of Common Council can enjoy a free, four-course lunch with wine on days they attend a committee meetings, or at a heavily subsidised price on other days?” he said. “That £315,000 would obviously be better spent for the public good – such as on Hampstead Heath.”

Cllr Harrower added: “In the year to March 2020, £315,000 was spent on the wining and dining of the 125 members of the Court of Common Council. That figure doesn’t include the larger cost of dinners and banquets in the Guildhall and Mansion House.”

The City announced last week that the Heath’s rolling maintenance programme was facing a fall of 50 per cent, slashing spending from around £1.4m to £750,000.

At the same time, the Heath’s overall budget will be cut by 12 per cent for the coming year.

Cllr Harrower also said that members had access to added perks including a subsidised bar and bedrooms that members can use for free.

Other costs stomached by the City’s cash include maintaining offices in China, India and Brussels, and covering around 90 days of global travel a year by the Lord Mayor to promote financial services.

Cllr Graeme Harrower

Last week, the Heath Superintendent, Bob Warnock, said that a recovery programme of work for land flattened by an increased numbers of walkers during the lockdown periods could take years.

Paths have been wrecked in some areas by the heavy footfall and users have reached parts of the Heath which normally few visitors go to – he compared its appearance to a “giant cross-country course”.

Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association co-chairwoman Mary Powell said it casts doubt on the City’s ability to manage the Heath.

She added: “It defies understanding that £315,000 could be used to subsidise wining and dining. They are unlikely to be experiencing food poverty. This is happening at the same time as the City is squeezing money out of Heath users.”

“The Heath belongs to all, but the City sees it as a collection of income streams, whilst having the cheek to support the cost of fine dining in the Guildhall.”

Although it had been discussed at a Heath consultative meeting, the City has said it has no plans to introduce pay-to-use toilets on the Heath. And this week it defended plans to reduce spending on the historic open space – which is sometimes dubbed the “lungs of London”.

Anne Fairweather, chairwoman of the City’s Heath Committee, said: “Hampstead Heath is a registered charity, funded efficiently and effectively by the City, and through revenue generated by services, grants and donations. We invest over £5m every year.”

She added: “The Heath is thriving under our stewardship and playing a leading role in the physical and mental health of Londoners – more now than ever before. We are working to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our budgets and ensure our finances are on a sustainable footing. Savings have to be made and this is a difficult but necessary task.

“We will continue to keep the Heath well maintained for all to enjoy in the future. “We manage the Heath in an open, inclusive and democratic way, with locals and user groups at the heart of decision-making.” Letters, page 19&20

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