There’s no legal requirement for £12million Hampstead Heath flood defence, says Environment Agency boss

Lord Dambuster lobs one at Hampstead Heath plan

Published: October 13, 2011

LORD Chris Smith told a black-tie dinner on Tuesday night that plans for a multi-million-pound dam in Hampstead Heath’s ponds were not a “legal requirement”.

The former Islington MP, who is now the chairman of the Environment Agency, shed new light on the £12million proposals as he spoke at the Hampstead Heath Management Committee’s annual dinner.

The Committee has previously claimed they have no choice but to drive ahead with the project, which will affect all 23 ponds on the Heath.

Unveiled in ­January, the dams would be built to protect 1,500 homes in Gospel Oak, Dartmouth Park and Parliament Hill that could be flooded in a worst-case scenario during a heavy storm. Some critics are worried the work will ruin walking routes and scenic views.

Lord Smith told the gathering at Butchers Hall in the City of London that he had consulted colleagues at the Environment Agency – the enforcement body for the legislation regarding reservoirs – especially before his speech to seek clarification. He said he wanted to get his facts straight. “I particularly asked them about the Reservoirs Act of 1985 and what subsequent laws mean for Hampstead Heath,” he said. “What it requires is that the Corporation employ an engineer who must keep the Corporation advised at all times, appoint an inspecting panel engineer who makes a report once every 10 years – the last inspection was in 2006 by Andrew Rowland – and implement any of those recommendations as soon as is practicable.

“Andrew Rowland made no recommendations for remedial works on the dams, so there is no enforceable legal requirement on the Corporation to carry out any work.”

Although Lord Smith, who was a councillor in Islington for many years and went on to become the first ever Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, questioned the legal demand to build the dam, he also described the Corporation’s management of the Heath as prudent and sensible. 

Nevertheless, his speech prompted a speedy defence of the Corporation’s plans by their director of dams and water resources, Dr Andy Hughes. In a letter to the superintendent of the Heath, he said: “I listened with interest to Lord Smith’s comments on the reservoirs on Hampstead Heath. The City did have a recommendation in the interests of safety from the last statutory inspection reports which required the City to carry out a hydrological analysis. This was carried out and showed the need for works with an unacceptable high risk of over-topping and failure to the dams (one in 25-year events) and thus the need for remedial works.”

He added that there is no mechanism for inspectors to feed information back into an official recommendation that the Environment Agency could then enforce.


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