CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

First swim back: Hampstead Heath and Parliament Hill Lido reopen

Heath chairwoman defends new charges

11 July, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Hampstead Heath management committee chairwoman Anne Fairweather arrived at the Lido at 8am

QUEUES of the curious, the brave and the simply desperate for a dip stretched outside the Parliament Hill Lido and the Hampstead Heath swimming ponds this morning (Saturday) as the open spaces swimming facilities opened again for the first time since March.

Heath managers the City of London, under guidance from Whitehall and the Royal Society of Lifesavers, announced this week swimmers could book hour-long slots as the ponds and Lido as cold water swimming begins to return.

The City has been under fire from swimmers for their introduction of compulsory charges for swimming – a controversy which blew up before lockdown and has seen swimming association say they will continue to fight the plans.

Many swimmers say they will refuse to pay and attempt to swim anyway, and believe the decision by the City’s management committee is so serious that it puts in question the City’s entire management of Hampstead Heath.

Hampstead Heath management committee chairwoman Anne Fairweather arrived at the Lido at 8am to meet staff and swimmers – and observe how new rules were working.

Swimmers could only book in advance, must stick to strict lanes and after each session the pool is closed briefly for a thorough clean.

Some swimmers have claimed the City have unnecessarily delayed the opening the ponds and Lido – but Ms Fairweather said the City had worked to get the ponds and pool as open as soon as it was safe to do so.

Ms Fairweather said: “We are one of the first to re-open n London. There were swimming areas outside London that did not gave life guards that have re-opened, but we felt that because the Heath is well known for swimming, we were conscious that many people will want to swim. With that in mind, it was the right thing to do for our swimmers and staff.”

The Lido, whose water temperature is currently 18 degrees, opened for 85 swimmers at a time while the Mens and Ladies ponds offered spaces for 30 swimmers. The smaller Mixed Pond had space for 20 at a time.

Ms Fairweather dismissed calls from swimming associations to pause the controversial new charging system, imposed by the management committee in March, due to the pandemic and come back to the table to find a compromise.

She said: “We have had to invest further. The decision was taken in March and that means we need to implement it,” adding the management committee had to consider budgets across the City and not just the how the Heath was maintained.

“The Heath is the best funded open space we run,” Ms Fairweather said.  ”

With swimming charges, we looked at how we subsidise other activities.”

She said the previous system of having a ticket machine run on an honesty box style system was bringing in just four per cent of the costs of running the ponds – and with cold water swimming increasingly popular, a new way of raising money had to be created.

Ms Fairweather added: “We have seen a doubling over the past decade of people who want to swim. The review of charges took place because we needed to look at Health and Safety Executive advice. When the rest of the City is looking at their budgets, we can say we do put in money, look at our contribution.”

The costs of swimming – up from £2 to 34 and from £1 to £2.40 for concessions – was competitive against similar facilities, she said, adding: “I appreciate swimmers concerns but ultimately it is great value for money. The season ticket is just £66 a year for concessions, which is just over a £1 a week. The management committee voted to keep swimming available 365 days a year. They voted to subsidise it by 40 per cent.”

Ms Fairweather said the City spent over £4m a year on the Heath: “We all value these ponds. It is about all making a contribution.”

Many swimmers said they were pleased to be back in the water – but were seething at the new measures.

Rhodri Davies, who swims at the Men’s Pond as well as the Lido, told the New Journal:”The booking system is far from perfect. It looks a mess and how those not really clued up with computers will work it, I don’t know. And what about the people who decide they fancy a swim on the spur of the moment?

“The new charges just show how completely out of touch the City of London is. Their management committee is could not be more unrepresentative of the people who use the Heath – and it is undemocratic that they chose to ignore the advice of the Consultative committee. If I was on the Consultative committee, I would have called for every one to resign in protest.

“They have broken the spirit of the agreement and in the changing rooms the feeling is the City is not the right body to manage the Heath anymore, and they should pass it to the Greater London Authority. At least that way we could have a proper say – everyone feels very angry, very let down, and feel this just shows how the City do not understand the ethos of this common land.”

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