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‘Ponds model not sustainable’

OPINION: Karina Dostalova, who chairs the City of London Corporation’s Hampstead Heath Management Committee, argues swim charges are necessary

14 February, 2020 — By Karina Dostalova

HAMPSTEAD Heath is the most iconic of London’s open spaces, and a sanctuary in the heart of our busy capital.

We are proud to be the custodians of the Heath, which is situated just six kilometres from Trafalgar Square and receives over 10 million visits a year.

We have cared for the site since 1989, for the benefit of all Londoners.

But did you know the Heath is actually a registered charity, funded by over £5m from the City Corporation every year, and revenue generated though services like swimming, grants and donations?

Its famous bathing ponds were originally created in the 17th and 18th centuries as reservoirs to meet London’s growing demand for drinking water. Over time, some were repurposed for public swimming. They include the Mixed Bathing Pond, Highgate Men’s Bathing Pond and Kenwood Ladies’ Bathing Pond.

As readers may know, we will be responding with more lifeguards after advice from the Health and Safety Executive, and seeing swimming numbers double in the last decade to a record 655,000 visits a year.

At the moment, over a fifth of Hampstead Heath’s budget is being spent on running swimming facilities as visitor numbers soar and the swimming subsidy spirals. This growing subsidy is much greater than for any other user group. As guardians of the Heath, we have a responsibility to make sure all ar

eas of the site are fairly funded, including our learning centres, play areas, sports facilities, and important ecological work.

There are at least 55 historical features, monuments and archaeological sites on Hampstead Heath, which form a vital part of its character.

The beauty spot is a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation. Its mosaic of habitats provides an important resource for wildlife. It is of national as well as regional importance.

The Heath’s schools programmes reaches almost 8,000 students per year, educating young people and local communities to help them to connect with the natural world on their doorsteps. And its sports facilities are an antidote to a lack of open space in surrounding densely populated boroughs. The Heath has a crucial role to play in providing these opportunities and promoting good health. We want to ensure sure the Bathing Ponds are safe for everyone.

The current operating model is not working and is financially unsustainable in the long term. Currently under 4 per cent of pond swimmers pay the £2 charge, which is reinvested back into managing the facilities and helps to pay for lifeguards.

Last year the City Corporation spent £1,267,000 operating the Lido and three Bathing Ponds. £747,000 of this was spent running the swimming ponds alone, but income from ticket sales, season tickets and donations there only totalled £67,000.

They need to be run with a sustainable management model, like other areas of the Heath, to make sure the whole site remains an open space to be enjoyed for years to come. We want to want to make sure we are ready for the upcoming summer season after a record number of visitors last year.

That’s why we are discussing lifeguarding provision and charging arrangements with swimmers and the Heath Consultative Committee now.

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 from their busy lives.

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. We have already had some really helpful and informative discussions during the review and welcome all the comments the public has made.

We will always provide affordable, subsidised, swimming on the Heath. And charges for other sports and facilities are in line with similar services at other open spaces.

If any charges are changed for the swimming facilities following this consultation, we would benchmark them in line with similar facilities. We will take all views into account, and will consider proposals in March and make a decision.

For centuries, the Heath has been used and enjoyed by local people and Londoners for a wide range of pursuits. We want to keep it this way.

Our dedicated staff and volunteers will continue to work with our local communities to make sure that the Heath is protected for current and future generations to enjoy.

KARINA DOSTALOVA chairs the City of London’s Hampstead Heath Management Committee


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