The Independent London Newspaper
17th October 2018

Profile: Marc Hutchinson, the new chairman of the Heath and Hampstead Society

    Marc Hutchinson is leading the fight against the dams project planned for Hampst

    Marc Hutchinson is leading the fight against the dams project planned for Hampstead Heath

    Published: 15 July, 2014
    By GERALD ISAAMAN

    DEFEATING the mighty City Corporation is nothing new to Marc Hutchinson, the new chairman of the Heath and Hampstead Society. He has done it before.

    The odds are that he and the society will do it again in the forthcoming legal clash over the City of London Corporation’s £17million project to build a series of so-called safety dams should an outside, 400,000-to-one chance result in them causing a disastrous flood.

    Perhaps the more so now that the society’s solicitors have issued a 14-page “letter before action” challenge, which is now due for judicial review in the autumn.

    And with good reason.

    For not only is Marc, 59, a formidable City solicitor in the world of high finance, but he is very much what you might call a water baby, brought up learning to swim and surf at an early age like most Australians.

    Most evenings you will find him diving into the men’s swimming pond on the Heath and, at the height of the winter, taking a 7am dip, no matter the weather, en route to the office from his home in nearby South Hill Park.

    The presence of the Heath’s swimming ponds was one of the factors that decided Marc and his wife Nica Burns to move to Hampstead in 2002 when they discovered that the new Arsenal Emirates stadium was within shouting distance of the Highbury Fields home.

    “We had often walked on the Heath, taking the North London Line train from Highbury Corner to Hampstead Heath station, just a 10-minute journey,” explained Marc. “So when the house in South Hill Park came up for sale we bought it.

    It’s a long way from his birthplace in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney, his paternal great, great grandfather having joined the 1860s Melbourne gold rush and his maternal great grandfather having emigrated from Wales in the 1890s.

    He came to England for his education before returning to take a Law Masters degree with first class honours at Sydney University, working in the Australian High Court, then for a firm of Sydney solicitors before coming to London to work in the money markets division of Merrill Lynch, and subsequently the solicitors Slaughter and May.

    So he offered his legal services to the Heath’s mixed pond swimmers when the City Corporation produced an Amateur Swimming Association report on health and safety, which listed no fewer than 80 recommendations that coincided with the City’s desire to reduce its budget costs on employing early morning lifeguards. Their legal experts insisted that the pond opening hours would consequently have to be reduced because the City would be liable to prosecution to allow the 200 to 300 regulars to swim without lifeguard prosecution.

    Marc created the Hampstead Heath Winter Swimming Club with himself as its sole member and challenged the City by way of judicial review on the basis that if adult swimmers wished to swim at their own risk then those risks were not the City’s responsibility.

    Eventually, in 2005, a High Court judge agreed and Marc became the swimmers’ champion, representing them on the Heath Society’s sub-committee where they have never been represented before.

    “The swimmers are a very significant constituency running into thousands of people who swim regularly in the Heath ponds. And they have become part of our Dam Nonsense campaign in the controversy over the City’s proposals since they will be directly affected by them.”

    He became the society’s secretary in 2007, and since then has been dealing with a host of hot issues, notably planning and the demand for underground basement extensions and Sainsbury’s bid to open in South End Green.

    He and his wife have become life members – “The Heath would never have been preserved without the intervention of the society,” he says – and he can now claim an influx of new members, which have taken the total to a record 1,800.

    That has helped boost the society’s £100,000 appeal to fight the City Corporation, which has been advised by Michael Beloff QC who, ironically, advised Marc in his triumph in the earlier swimming legal action. “The City say they have no choice but to build the dams and indeed will be at criminal and civil liability if they fail to carry out these works,” says Marc. “They claim their hands are tied. We think not – and will go to court to prove it.”

    WHY MARC IS USED TO A BIT OF DRAMA
    By GERALD ISAAMAN

    Marc Hutchinson is used to drama in his life. He met his wife Nica when they were both studying law at University College London, except that she changed direction, became an actress and then 

    co-owner with Max Weitzenhoffer of the Nimax Theatres Group.

    They own six West End theatres – the Place, Lyric, Apollo, Garrick, Vaudeville and Duchess – and in her role as chief executive was awarded the OBE in last year’s New Year honours.

    “We acted together at university,” says Marc. “I suppose I always enjoyed drama, music too, but not enough to go into the business.”

     

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