Michael Welbank, architect loved the Heath and helped save it
Perhaps his lasting memorial can be found in the improved designs of the Heath’s watercourses
29 September, 2020 — By Dan Carrier
Michael Welbank on the Heath
MICHAEL Welbank, who has died aged 90, brought his immense experience in his professional life to help preserve Hampstead Heath.
The architect and town planner by trade was the chairman of the Hampstead Heath management committee when new laws saw the City of London take controversial action to at strengthen pond dams on the Heath.
Michael’s brilliance as a mediator and bringing his own experience to bear has not only ensured the ponds – which engineers found could be at risk of collapse – were made safer, but helped ensure the project was designed in a way that improved the ecology of the open space.
Born in 1930, he was educated at Highgate School.
During cross country runs, which he excelled at, he gained a youthful love of the Heath that would remain for the rest of his life.
Michael studied architecture at UCL in 1958 and went on to practise in Bedford Square, Bloomsbury. After meeting his wife Alison in the 1950s, they settled in South Hill Park, Hampstead, and had three children – Julian, William and Katherine.
Each Sunday, he would join his family for a morning stroll to Kenwood and then home for a lunch.
He also loved DIY – he was a regular in the builders merchants of Camden Town, as well as keen gardener. Michael had worked around the world on large scale projects and provided environmental assessments for some of the UK’s biggest infrastructure programmes, including the Channel Tunnel, Heathrow Express, Terminal 5, and the East Coast Main line.
Other passions included reading Lawrence of Arabia’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom – he was a well travelled man, who had visited north Africa and the Middle East, and he was interested by Lawrence’s sense of exploration and adventure.
Michael was much respected in his community, and could be found enjoying coffee at Dominique’s cafe in South End Green, or further up the hill at Hampstead’s Coffee Cup.
He was also an accomplished water colourist.
Michael was elected a councillor for the City’s Billingsgate ward in 2005 and served on numerous committees, including Hampstead Heath.
He was awarded an MBE in 2013, and held the post as President of the Royal Town Planning Institute, awarded a Professorship at Oxford Brookes University, and was a Master of the Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects.
Perhaps his lasting memorial can be found in the improved designs of the Heath’s watercourses – and how, three years after that controversial dam work was completed, the project has not led to ongoing complaints about how it looks.