Some of the information we heard at the KLPA AGM (reported below) about proposed work to the ponds has been called into question by an article in the Ham and High (April 14th 2011 p1). We were told by Simon Lee and the City hydrologist that the proposed works were required by the 2010 Flood and Water Management Act and that the Act would be implemented in 2011 without any major changes. The Ham and High however, reports that a spokesperson from the Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) told the paper ‘that the law has not yet been implemented and secondary legislation concerning reservoirs has not even been written.’ The spokesperson is quoted as saying, ‘there is currently no indication of what the legislation might mean for places like Hampstead Heath.’
In response to the Ham and High article referred to in the previous post the City circulated the following Q & A with Prof. Hughes, the engineer advising on the project:
Q There’s been talk of the 2010 Act not coming into force until April 2012, after consultation. Does this mean the City of London Corporation is rushing needlessly to act?
Prof Hughes: The factors that pushed ministers to act and draw up the 2010 Act have not changed. Nor has the condition of the Hampstead dams. This legislation is designed, among other things, to move the categorisation of reservoirs and their dams to a risk-based approach as recommended by Sir Michael Pitt in the Pitt Report. This approach will definitely come into force in the next two years and while the City could, technically, do necessary works under the 1975 Act now and then return to the issue later this would be completely illogical. You would have more work, more disruption (over more time), more concrete and – in the end the same result – at a larger total cost. In essence the 1975 Act does not allow for chains of reservoirs to be managed as a chain but the new Act does.The proposed solution – which I support – is to lessen works on what are currently the three reservoirs that fall into the 1975 Act by spreading the load. I believe this is the responsible course of action on safety and on amenity grounds.
Q What HAS to be done now and what could be done later?
Prof Hughes: The three dams covered by the 1975 Act are currently at risk of overtopping during rain events that happen once in 25 years – but that could happen tomorrow. If they do they will be damaged and could possibly fail and as the appointed Inspecting Engineer I require action to begin very soon to change this. The City needs to show me in a matter of weeks exactly what its plans are. In theory it could propose large works on the three dams, then undo them again under the 2010 legislation. That would make no sense.
Q Surely the Act will get softened? Has it not already slipped in timing?
Prof Hughes: Many people were expecting the legislation to be in force sooner than 2012. The new Act is to improve public safety and in my opinion will not get softened as demonstrated by progress in Scotland. I do not expect the consultation to materially affect dams such as Hampstead – which are in effect small dams with a large at-risk population nearby. Action will be required in such areas under the 2010 Act, I am sure, even where they are not covered (as in Hampstead) by the 1975 Act.
Why was the difference between the 1975 Act and the 2010 Act not made clear?
Prof Hughes: I have certainly made all of the above points when briefing Heath users. The City’s website also talks about both acts. All that has changed is that DEFRA have announced a clear date – 2011 for commencement and 2012 for implementation.
What’s your role and don’t you have an interest in getting more work done?
Prof Hughes: As a Panel Engineer my over-riding responsibility is public safety. Panel Engineers are professionals and liable for the lives they put at risk. Where I see work needs doing for public safety – as is the case here – I am obliged to say so. Under law I am also required to oversee and get the works done safely if necessary. If we don’t get a clear path ahead soon for Hampstead Heath, this becomes a real possibility. Works carried out under such an emergency regime are always more costly and disruptive.
Why is the City Corporation rushing at this? Why does it not challenge the 2010 Act?
Prof Hughes: I believe they are acting responsibly in a difficult situation and are not ‘rushing at this’. Others faced with the 2010 Act may simply decide to drain their reservoirs. Others are following exactly the same action as the City. Now the City Corporation knows the extent of the risk to life and property and they need to act. They are liable not just under reservoir legislation but also under common law. Of course a dam owner could challenge the act but this would an expensive, lengthy and I believe fruitless exercise – and all the while that dam owner would remain liable. It is hardly a tenable position for a responsible body like the City of London Corporation, with potential dangerous reservoirs on a hill in the middle of London.
The United Swimmers Association (USA) is an umbrella organisation which was set up originally about eight years ago when the City was proposing to close some or all of the swimming facilities on the Heath. The aim was to coordinate campaigning on the part of the various swimmers’ organisations. When the threat was withdrawn and good relations between swimmers and the City were restored, the USA continued to exist but ceased to meet regularly. Early this year, however, swimmers who had been involved in talks with the City about the proposed major engineering work to the ponds decided that it should be reactivated.
As a start, a general meeting was held on Sunday 17th of April with Robert Sutherland Smith in the chair and attended by, among others, members of the KLPA, the lido group and Hampstead Winter Swimmers.
After a short introduction to the USA the meeting focussed on the proposed engineering works. Several of those present had been to a long consultative meeting organised by the City for invited individuals including representatives of swimmers’ organisations but not including the lido group. The other main source of information was the talk at the KLPA AGM. All those who attended either of those meetings had understood from City spokespersons that the works were proposed primarily because they were required by the 2010 Flood and Water Management Act, that the Act would come into force in the summer 2011 and that therefore opposing the plan is not a rational option and that there is room for negotiation only around the details of design and the timetable.
This understanding, however, was called into question by a report in the Ham and High on the 14th of April (summarised in a previous post) stating that according to DEFRA, the relevant Government Department, the legislation has been postponed until 2012 at the earliest and may be subject to extensive changes. In response the City circulated a Q. and A. ( reproduced in a previous post)
In the following discussion the main points made were: (1) the City seems to have misrepresented the situation by stressing the 2010 Act; (2) the impression had been given that a reluctant City was being forced to Act by DEFRA whereas the recent DEFRA statement suggests that DEFRA has yet to decide what may or may not be required; (3) this contradiction raises questions about other aspects of the City’s case and the reasons why the Corporation decided to propose such expensive and environmentally damaging works; (4) the Q. and A. circulated by the City purports to show that the DEFRA statement does not materially alter the case for the works but is not convincing; (5) despite these new doubts it is important to take into account that complying with the 2010 Act is not the only consideration. Some of the proposed work may be required under an earlier Act of 1975 which already classifies three of the ponds as reservoirs and, in any case, any serious danger to the public should be addressed.
The general conclusion was that it seems clear now that the timetable proposed by the City is unnecessarily hasty but on the basis of information currently available it is difficult to judge whether the works can be justified either because of statutory obligation or because they are in the public interest. It was premature to either oppose or endorse the project but the misinformation about the 2010 Act strongly suggests a need for vigilance.
It was agreed that the USA is needed to co-ordinate the swimmers’ responses and the immediate priority is to find out more. As a first step, Robert Sutherland Smith will ask the City for some more documentation.
It was decided to postpone election of officers to a meeting to be called in the near future.
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