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We must resist the privatisation of public spaces by local authorities and English Heritage

11 July, 2019

Kenwood House in Hampstead Heath

• I WAS with other runners on Hampstead Heath on July 4 when we came across a No Access sign just before iron railings blocking the public path through the woods up to Kenwood House.

Over the last month or so the grass area at the back of Kenwood and in front of the lake has been fenced off for corporate events, denying the public access to one of the most beautiful, open and convenient areas to enjoy the summer months. The public path through the woods is however on the outside of the fenced area.

Yet on July 4 even that path had been suddenly blocked off. This meant runners, walkers, mothers with buggies and less able people unexpectedly had to turn around and go back a considerable way along the path.

If the No Access sign had been placed much earlier along this path then users would, at least, have been able to turn off on to another path. This is not just a matter of inconvenience. It flashes up a signal about creeping privatisation of our right to roam on public spaces.

When I phoned the local English Heritage number at Kenwood to complain and suggest the sign be moved, I was spoken to very rudely by someone who would not give their name and essentially told me that I should “run elsewhere”.

I have been running on Hampstead Heath for more than 50 years. The man launched into what can only be described as a rant about how English Heritage needs funding, if Kenwood House is to be maintained, and that I was fortunate not to have to pay to run on the Heath, informing me that there used to be a tollgate at Spaniards Inn.

I do know the history of this area and that, contrary to what many believe, the house and grounds were not given to the public directly, but via the Iveagh Bequest which stipulated that Kenwood and its grounds should be open free of charge to the public.

English Heritage central office later confirmed that Kenwood House and the estate enclosed by the railings is an English Heritage property and that on July 4 had hired the area for the day.

There is an increasing tendency for local authorities, and apparently English Heritage, to privatise our public spaces for commercial fundraising festivals and concerts during the summer, banning entry to local and other users.

We must be vigilant and stop this. It was only popular protest that won the rights of access to our open spaces and without vigilance, we will lose them.

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