Controversial Hampstead Heath ponds safety work wins engineering award

The City of London Corporation's re-engineering of Hampstead Heath Ponds, undertaken to prevent flooding and improve wildlife ecology, has won a top award at the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) London Civil Engineering Awards.

Aerial view of the Model Boating Pond. Image: City of London Corporation
Aerial view of the Model Boating Pond. Image: City of London Corporation

The Hampstead Heath Ponds Project won the ICE’s Community Benefit Award after helping to virtually eliminate the risk of dam failure on Heath ponds during extreme rainfall and major storms.

The City of London Corporation (CoL) decided to undertake the work, recommended by a hydrology engineer, following an Environment Agency inspection in 2007. As well as being necessary to protect the heath and nearby communities against future flooding, it was a legal requirement under the Reservoirs Act 1975 and the Flood and Water Management Act 2010.

Three of Hampstead Heath’s Ponds are big enough to be classed as 'large raised reservoirs' under the Reservoirs Act 1975, holding over 25,000 cubic metres of water, and are subject to inspections by panel engineers.

Detailed studies had shown that dam collapse could have led to severe flooding and even possible loss of life for communities downstream.

However members of the local community opposed the work and started a spirited campaign, and launched a judicial review, claiming the work would damage the heath. A total of 12,540 people signed an online petition against the plans. Councillors voted for the work to go ahead in January 2015.

The project has improved the safety of the pond’s earth dams and eliminated the risk of dam collapse and has provided additional habitats for birds, amphibians and invertebrates.

The scheme was one of eight shortlisted projects that were visited by a panel of ICE judges.

Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Hampstead Heath Committee Karina Dostalova said: "Safeguarding the Heath’s character and landscape were at the very heart of this scheme.

"We have enhanced views of the ponds with new landscaped paths and we are improving water quality and ecological diversity whilst strengthening the earth dams so that they are structurally sound.

"The design for this project took into full account the need to preserve the Heath's landscape and habitat. A team of landscape architects, ecologists and hydrologists worked alongside engineers to ensure that the works will improve water quality and biodiversity."

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