CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Oyster card-style entry system planned for Hampstead Heath ponds

Campaigners still want compulsory fees to be axed

03 September, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

AN Oyster card-style entry system is set to be introduced at Hampstead Heath’s historic swimming ponds.

New plans were announced this week by Hampstead Heath managers, the City of London, to manage the boom in cold water swimming at the open space’s ponds.

They include installing the new contactless payment system for the controversial compulsory charging regime, and the scrapping of online booking for sessions in favour of a one-in-one-out policy during busy times.

Swimmers will also be able to stay longer in the water. Season tickets will now be accepted once more, while free swims will be offered to the under-16s and the over-60s before 9.30am at the ponds.

While many swimmers have welcomed the changes, which will come into force when the winter season begins on September 21, the ponds’ swimming associations are continuing their campaign aimed at persuading the City to reconsider the introduction of compulsory tickets.

Chris Piesold, chairman of the Men’s Pond Association, told the New Journal: “We are cautiously positive about bringing back season tickets. It means a saving if you swim three or more times a week. “The introduction of swimming for under-16s is positive too, and we do not believe there will be queues when the temperature begins to drop, so having a one-in-one-out policy is sensible.”

Protests are ongoing over new compulsory charges

But he added: “We remain utterly opposed to compulsory charging. The whole purpose of the consultation they conducted beforehand and what happened afterwards was simply the City saying we are going to make swimmers pay.“They did us all a disservice to ask us to engage when it became apparent it would not have any impact on their actions.”

The move to introduce the fees was approved just before the coronavirus crisis unfolded. The City of London had been told by the Health and Safety Executive that it needed to hire more lifeguards after a drowning last year.

Heath management committee chairwoman Anne Fairweather said: “Swimming in cold, open water has many benefits. It allows you to get close to nature in such a unique way that cannot be described, only experienced. The Heath’s swimming facilities are becoming more popular every year and it’s not hard to see why. Everyone who is fit and able should try cold water swimming at least once. “We have fully prepared for the winter season and I hope to see many people – regulars and newcomers – come to enjoy the fantastic benefits of swimming in our beautiful, clear ponds and exceptional Lido over the coming months.”

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