Challenge to Heath Ponds swimming charges will go to High Court

City of London to contest judicial review claim

Friday, 13th August 2021 — By Dan Carrier

blind swimmer heath pond

Christina Efthimiou’s legal action has moved a step further

THE battle over the scrapping of free swimming on Hampstead Heath is set to go to court – after a disabled swimmer heard her bid for a judicial review into the City of London’s compulsory ticket regime has been successful.

Now judges will consider whether by imposing charges and increasing costs to swim in the Heath’s ponds, the City is discriminating against disabled people and those on low incomes.

Christina Efthimiou, 59, is registered blind and suffers from a long-term lung condition. She swam regularly in the Ladies’ Pond before charges were introduced last year. She claims the new charges mean she can no longer afford a dip – and it is robbing her of a vital part of managing her disability and is damaging to her health.

Her solicitors, Leigh Day, add that by not putting in place a workable discount system, the City is discriminating against disabled swimmers.

This week, Ms Efthimiou heard that High Court judges agreed the City has a case to answer under the 2010 Equality Act. Ms Efthimiou said: “The introduction of charges has priced me out of an activity that was hugely beneficial to my physical and mental health.

“How can it be fair that use of the ponds has effectively become the preserve of the better off and able-bodied? I feel the charges have discriminated against me as a disabled person and I hope the court will agree.”

When fees were controversially introduced last year, the City said advice from the Health and Safety Executive and the boom in the popularity of cold water swimming meant they needed to meet extra lifeguarding costs.

It doubled the price of swims for adults and increased concessions by 140 per cent, while pointing out that it was subsidising swims to the tune of around £600,000 a year.

Solicitor Kate Egerton, representing Ms Efthimiou, said: “We have significant evidence, from both our client and other disabled swimmers, about the exclusionary nature of the charges. The City could devise a scheme that meets its equality obligations simply and at minimal cost. We are therefore feeling positive that the court will find in Christina’s favour.”

This is not the first time swimming on the Heath has been put before judges. In 2005, the City attempted to charge for dips, and since then an uneasy truce between swimmers and the City saw an honesty box system used.

Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association co-chairwoman Mary Powell said the green light for a judicial review showed the City had a case to answer.

She added: “Until now the City has been dismissive of the concerns we raised, but we are still willing to work with the City to resolve this situation.  It is only in recent years that the ponds have been treated as a means to make money, having been free to access until 2005, and still easily accessible to people on low incomes until March 2020.

“It is still possible to find a way to make the ponds accessible again and we urge the City to co-operate in this.”

The City said it will contest the claims and has support in place to ensure the ponds are accessible.

The spokeswoman added: “We offer a huge range of support to disabled swimmers, and our staff work hard to ensure a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. A telephone booking system is in place and there is free entry for carers to ensure disabled swimmers are fully supported.

The Hampstead Heath charity offers a 40 per cent swimming discount to disabled people, and a season ticket brings the cost down to as little as £1.46 per week.”

They added it was free to swim before 9.30am for people over 60 and under 16 and vow that funds raised are spent on the ponds. No date has yet been set for the hearing.

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