The independent London newspaper

Heath swimming ponds could get turnstile charges

300 years of free dips could be coming to an end

05 February, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

HAMPSTEAD Heath managers The City of London are facing a furious backlash as plans to potentially end 300 years of free swimming emerged this week.

The City has been consulting with swimming groups on how to pay for the upkeep of the Heath’s three bathing ponds following a review of costs and new advice from the Health and Safety Executive over lifeguard numbers and the increasing popularity of cold water dips.

On the table are plans to install turnstiles with a touch card system to raise funds, having a ticket collector on duty and asking swimming groups to fundraise to “significantly reduce the gap between subsidies and true operating costs.”

When the City tried to introduce compulsory tickets in 2005, the plans were overruled by the High Court.

Last November, the Heath’s consultative committee heard City budgets would be cut across the board by £30 million as they seek to build a new £288 million concert hall near the Barbican.

Nicky Mayhew, chairwoman of the Kenwood Ladies Pond Association, told the New Journal: “This feels less and less like a consultation and looks like they are trying to increase revenue and make tickets compulsory. We want to ensure it remains affordable and accessible for all. We understand advice may mean the ponds need additional staff, but we are concerned the cost is being weaponised by the City to justify massive increases in charges.”

She added: “We are concerned heavy-handed enforcement will destroy the unique natural atmosphere of the ponds. It would be more effective and consistent with the culture of the ponds to encourage rather than force swimmers to pay.

The City has consistently failed to make it easy to pay and that promoting the availability of season tickets, replacing outdated faulty ticket machines and enabling contactless payment would go a long way.”

This week, the City released information over revenue and costs. It revealed a fifth of the Heath’s budget goes on swimming – and in just under a decade swimming numbers have soared from 296,000 to over 655,000 per year. They spent £747,000 on running the swimming ponds with income totalling £67,000 annually.

The City estimates only 3.7 per cent of swimmers pay to get in.
Plans on how to tackle rising costs will now be considered by the Heath’s consultative committee in early March and then a decision will be confirmed by the Hampstead Heath Management Committee three days later.

Chairwoman of the Heath Management Committee Karina Dostalova said: “The Heath’s swimming facilities are becoming more popular every year. They are a prime space for Londoners to get outside and take time out. To be able to keep it this way, we want to make sure that we have the right resources in place for visitors to safely enjoy all the Heath has to offer.

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