CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Any attempt at charging for the Heath ponds will be resisted

23 January, 2020

‘The City cannot be allowed to ‘manipulate health and safety’ to enclose the Heath bathing ponds’

• THE Corporation of London unwisely promoted a private film last summer about those strictly limited and marvellous scarce resources, the swimming ponds of Hampstead Heath.

First they assisted and encouraged the making of this film. Then they staged showings of it at cinemas; it was shown across north London and beyond. What they did not do was to budget for additional staffing resources to cope with the sudden, predictable and inevitable spike in demand for them.

Unfortunately all of this has been entangled with the regrettable death of a swimmer last summer, who suffered a heart attack, and the subsequent comments of the Health and Safety Executive about the number of lifeguards to swimmers. The corporation offer no statistical evidence that the rise in numbers is part of a trend.

Moreover, these types of days occur only a few times in a year. The City cannot be allowed to “manipulate health and safety” to enclose the Heath bathing ponds by charges and or other means.

The admirable rescue staff at the ponds were overwhelmed last summer by this sudden unbudgeted increase in numbers as angry and frustrated people, brought there by this film, sought admission to the ponds on the hottest, sunniest days – always peaks in seasonal demand. The staff have had to carry the load of this shortsighted bit of unbudgeted marketing and promotion.

Now the City corporation seeks to deal with this problem, of its own making, by portraying it as some ineluctable and mysterious expression of social and climate change – and (you guessed it) entertaining, yet again, the notion of charging for use of these bathing ponds, which like the rest of the Heath, have been free since the Hampstead Heath Act of 1872 made them so.

Understandably, and inevitably, any attempt to use this as justification for charging Heath users will be reasonably resisted as they always have been.

The corporation – certainly short-term – has altered the established long-term supply and demand for the ponds. There is no proper statistical basis for deducing a change in the trend of usage.

Any attempt to impose charges would be unscientific and self-serving opportunism by the Corporation of London in an enclosure of the Heath, contrary to the intention of the Hampstead Heath Act.

ROBERT SUTHERLAND SMITH
Chairman, United Swimmers’ Association of Hampstead Heath

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