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The Heath is a unique wild resource, not a ‘leisure facility’

06 February, 2020

SHOULD anyone be surprised that the City of London Corporation – the governing body of the Square Mile that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing – is looking to profit from a Heath pond swimming boom?

Since the ponds were first created, three centuries ago, swimming has remained an inalienable right of all visitors to this most cherished of London parks.

The health benefits of fresh water dips are well documented and it is likely that its most hardy regulars will not be deterred by a small fee.

But the feel and experience of this great and wild resource would be altered beyond repair.

The Heath ponds have a unique quality and are unlike a “leisure facility” accessed through a gym-card membership or points-based scheme. They are, for many, a welcome escape from the stifling tiers of bureaucracy that dominate the urban sprawl.

Recent deaths and serious accidents in the ponds may have drawn safety to the attention of managers. Could a reduction in lifeguard cover be seen as a breach of the City’s legal duties?

In 2005, the Corporation attempted to curb free-swimming on the Heath without lifeguards on duty. It argued it was not clear, under the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, whether compensation challenges could be bought if it did not ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that swimmers were not exposed to health and safety risks.

Swimming groups took them to court and won in a case billed as a victory over the “cult of health and safety” by the nanny state. A right was established for responsible adults to decide for themselves whether to pursue recreational activities, even if there was an obvious danger.

But 15 years later, with compensation culture far more entrenched in society, will these same arguments stand up to legal scrutiny?

If the City can no longer afford the annual maintenance and lifeguards cost, then perhaps it is time another body – like the Greater London Authority – took over. Failing that, the City must find a way to pay for full lifeguard cover without introducing charges.

Deportation protest

THE bubbling furore over the planned deportation of people to Jamaica has all the hallmarks of another hostile environment scandal.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that “people of this country will think it is right to send back foreign national offenders”.

A protest is being staged tonight (Thursday) outside Downing Street at 6pm.

When will it stop? Why are we finding it so hard to come to terms with Windrush generation?

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