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Now City of London wants to put up Heath pond swim charges

The introduction of compulsory charging last year led to fierce opposition from swimming groups

31 January, 2021 — By Dan Carrier

BUMPER fee hikes to swim in Hampstead Heath’s traditionally free ponds have prompted calls for the City of London to look again at their controversial pay-to-swim policy on the common land.

The City, which manages the Heath, imposed compulsory charges to swim in the Men’s, Ladies’ and Mixed ponds last March after ignoring the recommendations of a public consultation and the advice of a body made up by civic groups.

Swimmers, who have continued their campaign to persuade the City to overturn the charges, now say fresh plans to raise prices will further hit those who are least able to pay.

The City is currently asking for views over proposals to increase charges for sports across the Heath. It says the retail price index – a guide to inflation based on the cost of an average weekly shopping basket – will be used to put up some costs, while comparing fees at “comparable facilities across London”.

This means swimmers eligible for a concessionary season ticket would pay over 20 per cent more than they do now. Currently, a swim costs £4 – double the previous £2 fee charged using an “honesty box” payment system up until last year.

The Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association say the new fees are “inflation-busting increases” which fail to acknowledge the impact of last year’s compulsory charging.

KLPA vice-chairwoman Mary Powell said: “We urge the City not to push ahead with further punitive price rises, hitting those on low incomes hardest, and instead to work with the swimmers’ associations. We have offered all along to encourage payment by those who can afford it, whilst avoiding exclusion or embarrassment for those who cannot.”

She added: “Access to the healing qualities of the bathing ponds is more important now than ever. “There is no support scheme in place despite this being promised last March. The City has benchmarked prices against expensive facilities used for training purposes rather than lifeguarded public beaches. “This is not the time to price out regular swimmers by turning the bathing ponds into the ‘Hampstead Heath Spa and Training Facility’. “The Heath is increasingly being treated as a commodity.”

Meanwhile, swimming groups have published the findings of a survey they say shows the lasting impact of the City’s decision to break a tradition that lasted for more than 200 years.

They say the views of 600 swimmers, who filled in the questionnaire, reveals they believe charging infringes on common rights and has discriminated against people on low incomes.

The survey found that nearly 60 per cent said the City’s tickets had hit the affordability of swimming, while almost a quarter said they could no longer visit the ponds. Another 30 per cent said they could not buy season tickets.

A City spokesperson said they offered discounts to people claiming benefits, adding: “We are providing subsidised swimming with fair pricing, with concessions bringing down the cost of adult swimming to as low as £2.43. We have a comprehensive support scheme which includes free or discounted swimming for the elderly, disabled people, jobseekers, students, children and volunteers.”

They also highlighted concessions which offer up to 40 per cent off the full price, and said they had introduced free morning swims for the over-60s and under-16s. The ponds are currently closed due to Covid restrictions.

New prices are set to be discussed by the City’s Heath management committee next month and could be introduced in the summer from May 1.

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