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Swimmers’ trial return to ponds as charging row goes on

City of London urged to drop charging plan

03 July, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Back in the water [Sarah Saunders]

FOR the first time in three months swimmers were able to take a dip in the Hampstead Heath ponds as new distancing measures were trialled yesterday (Wednesday).

But campaigners said the coronavirus pandemic should be a red alert for the City of London, the Heath’s managers, to drop their new charges. They argued that the ponds were needed to help people’s well-being and should not be ruined by enforcing the new fees.

Ruth Hallgarten, who is due to become the chair of the Kenwood Ladies Pond Association (KLPA), said: “We hope the City will discuss a humane way forward that recognises the unprecedented distress caused by Covid-19. We don’t think the City understands the impact of their new charging regime.

For many, swimming in the ponds is vital to their mental and physical health. The new charges and rigorous enforcement will undoubtedly cause ongoing distress to people who have suffered hugely.”

The City say rising costs, including the need to hire more lifeguards, have made the current use of an “honesty box” to collect cash unviable. The authority agreed to increase the price from £2 to £4 and up to £2.40 for concessions at a meeting in mid-March, just before the coronavirus emergency gripped the capital.

Swimming groups had all vehemently opposed the introduction of the charges, which cut across the recommendations of the Heath’s consultative group, which liaises with pond users. Other swimming groups – the Highgate Men’s Pond Association (HMPA), the Mixed Pond Association (MPA) and The Highgate Lifebuoys – are also asking for new talks with the City.

It’s good to be back [Sarah Saunders]

Nicola Mayhew, the current chair of the KLPA, said: “During our consultation earlier this year the City made it clear that the level of subsidy for the swimming ponds had to be reduced and that costs were rising. We argued strongly that, with goodwill and effort, we could close the gap by increasing revenue from the thousands of people who love the ponds. This option is still available and could achieve the City’s goal without destroying the unique culture and ethos of the ponds as places open to everyone, regardless of income.”

The KLPA added they had muted their opposition due to the pandemic, but now hoped the City would come back to the table or face a rising tide of protest. City Heath management committee chairwoman

Anne Fairweather said: “The new charges were agreed following a detailed review and consultation.

Both the City and swimmers agreed that action needed to be taken to ensure the welfare of the lifeguards, who were coming under increasing pressure. More lifeguards and rangers needed to be employed to meet this rising demand, and are now in place.”

The Health and Safety Executive made safety recommendations in a report after the death of a swimmer in the waters last year.

“This included installing technology which will give a more accurate count of the numbers in the water,” Ms Fairweather said. “To ensure the ponds are run with a sustainable management model, the City has changed its payment scheme to reflect these rising costs. We will continue to collaborate with swimmers as we implement these changes.”

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