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Tory: gay group should foot £70k Heath clean-up bill
The Tory hoping to reclaim Margaret Thatcher's seat at the next general election has called on the gay community to cough up the £70,000 it costs to clear used condoms from Hampstead Heath.
Andrew Mennear, the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for Finchley & Golders Green, wrote to the Stonewall pressure group this week, asking it to sponsor a daily clean-up of West Heath behind Golders Hill Park, which is a well-known area used by gay men for casual sexual encounters. He hopes the money raised will avert cuts to other services on the Heath, which has to plug a £230,000 hole in its budget next year.
"We shouldn't shy away from controversial ideas," said Mr Mennear. "The Hampstead Heath Management Committee needs to find money, and will have to cut essential amenities for the public while it costs £70,000 every year to pay two people to clean up after all the gay festivities on the Heath every night.
"I am particularly concerned about the children's zoo in the park. We don't want anything to touch that. It would be a shame to cut back on amenities rather than find sponsorship for something as simple as cleaning up after the night. I don't think gay people can feel targeted by this it's not a cost the Corporation of London can bear and the vast majority who go there, go for gay sex, so there we go.
"Potentially this would be a marvellous gesture by London's gay community. We all hear of the strength of the pink pound' and here's a perfect opportunity for that pink pound to invest locally."
The Heath's management committee, which is run by the Corporation of London, has already identified potential cuts to events such as Jazz on a Summer's Evening in the park, free swimming in the ponds and the information service at Parliament Hill.
But Mr Mennear's proposal was branded a cheap political stunt' by Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, who said it had no intention of paying for a clear-up as it was simply a lobbying group.
Mr Summerskill said: "The Heath is used by all communities and given that the most famous user of Hampstead Heath in recent years was a Conservative MP, perhaps they should have a whip-round.
"We don't finance environmental projects of this sort. This is just a cheap political stunt and trying to make a political issue out of this doesn't seem a serious way of solving a financial crisis."
A spokesman for the heath management committee said: "We can't cut this service. What we are mainly concerned with is asking people who use the Heath to clean up after themselves if they drop litter. In the meantime, we have already been working with the gay community for more than a year to try and raise awareness about this."
Clearing up the Heath
Two cleaners are employed on the Heath specifically to clean up used condoms, packaging and lubricants
They have to use a specially modified machine, a bit like a tractor with a hose, to suck up the condoms as they would block conventional machines
The annual cost of the clean-up is £70,000 compared to £300,000 for routine maintenance and clearing up other litter