What indeed? Well, if you listen to DamNonsense.org.uk or the Hampstead Village Voice, idiocy, chicanery, the defiguring of Hampstead Heath, corruption, ‘heinous wrongdoing’ – indeed the whole bag of evil tricks! But who is doing what to whom?
Well, the City of London, who administer the heath seem to have been persuaded that a latter day Noah’s flood is about to be unleashed on Hampstead Heath causing its seven ponds to overflow into each other and on down the hill, seriously wetting the good people of Gospel Oak. The fact that, in the whole recorded history of Hampstead Heath, this has never happened and never even shown any signs of happening, seems to have weighed light with the City men. Convinced of the righteousness of their cause, they brought some heavy pressure to bear on the good Councillors of Camden to OK the plan. Also bearing down on the councillors were the Heath and Hampstead Society (who had seriously worsted MacDonalds in days gone by, so are no push over) and most of the local residents who could see no point at all in the scheme beyond a great deal of money for the contractors concerned.
Confused, the councillors called in some independent experts to advise. The only problem was that the ‘independent experts’ they called in (Aecom) were part of the consortium (Atkins/Aecom) who were front runners to do the work. Hardly surprisingly, Aecom advised that the work should go ahead. So, go ahead it has although its opponents are still crying foul and calling for it to be halted instanter.
However, one can only assume that Atkins/Aecom must now be seriously confused themselves as, from what one can see, all they are doing is emptying the ponds – and then filling them up again…. then emptying them again – then filling them up again…
The scheme involves raising the pathway that separates the boating pond and the men’s bathing pond (to the left of this picture) by about 5 metres. To do this they have built a large dam across the bottom end of the boating pond so that they can drain the bottom end and then raise the pathway into a dam.
Now whether or not this is necessary, if you are going to do it, it seems a reasonable way to go about it. And, over the last few weeks, as we go for our evening walk around the heath, we have watched the massive diggers and pontoons inch across the pond hammering in the temporary dam and then starting to drain the bottom end.
So the water level went down (you could see water being pumped up into the remains of the pond on the right) – and then it came up again. And then it went down again – and then came up again. Finally, about four days ago, when we passed, the level had definitely sunk. Action at last. Then two days ago, the lower half of the pond had all but disappeared revealing, among other detritus, the remains of a car….
But yesterday, when we walked by, there was a large pump funnelling water back into the lower pond so that the car, which had been totally revealed the day before, was once more half submerged, as you can see. Tonight when we walked by, the car had vanished once more beneath the waves, the lower part of the pond was now half full while the upper part (which had been full to the brim) is now quite depleted, much it having gone to refill the lower pond!
Not, be it said, that this appeared to bother the fishermen who were out, as usual, in force, even though there were only a few inches of water towards the edge of the pond. Any fish that had survived this endless syphoning would, I would have thought, long since have taken shelter in the middle on the lake in the hopes of remaining safe !!
We just hope Atkins/Aecom have slightly better idea of what they are doing elsewhere – as on the hill behind the ponds were they have removed all the topsoil to get at the clay which they are proposing to use to created the new higher walkway……..
Fortunately Hampstead Heath is very large and very tolerant and no doubt it will, in due course, recover from this assault. But could the City of London not have found some better way to spend the £23 million the project is to cost – which will, no doubt, have risen to around £40 million by the time they have finished?
If you want to read more, here are the City’s Pond Project reports.
If you just want to enjoy the beauty of Hampstead Heath, do wander round its woods in the lovely evening light – but stay well clear of the ponds!