Heath pond fees: You wouldn’t charge people for a dip at the seaside…

OPINION: Blind swimmer explains why she thinks charges for open air swimming are harmful

Monday, 4th July — By Ann Griffin

Ann Griffin at ponds

In an opinion piece following the High Court judgement rejecting a case against Heath swim charges, ANN GRIFFIN explains why she thinks the fees are causing harm

WHEN is a pond not a pond?

For me and many other disabled swimmers it is a lifesaver, offering unquantifiable physical, mental and emotional relief that could otherwise require greater reliance on pharmacological remedies. The pond is our local beach or river, our place of free access to swimming in nature for hundreds of years.

As a blind woman, it is the only place I can move with total freedom: released from the land-based fear of obstacles or trip hazards; and unfettered by the more regimented water ways of lanes for different speeds and overtaking protocols

This has been stripped away from those who cannot afford the compulsory charges enforced in 2020, following the loss of the disability discrimina­tion case on charging against the City of London Corporation last week. Some 93 per cent of those surveyed in January 2021 who were disabled and on disability benefits said that their ability to afford swimming had been affected by the charges.

To the City, however, the pond is a “leisure facility”, commercially analysed in comparison with facilities where swimming was not a historic freedom, to justify their creeping policy of monetisation.

The City was gifted the stewardship of the Heath on the basis that they had the financial resources to maintain the rights enshrined in the parliamentary act of 1871 for “free access”. But they have reneged on this, whimpering about how they cannot afford the cost of £10m a year upkeep for the whole heath, of which the ponds and lido together cost £1m.

The claim that charges are a positive strategy for long-term sustainability is backed up by a divisive and disingenuous false logic that reducing or removing charges for ponds would increase burden of charges on other heath users.

Let’s get some perspective on this: that’s not the only alternative.

The “tens of thousands” shortfall which has been referred to by the Hampstead Heath Management Committee could be covered in a blink by a tiny fraction of the City’s £350,000 spent on providing free wining and dining for their members at the Mansion House (see CNJ, February 4 2021).

Unique. And now endangered.

A truly sustainable future for our ponds must be one where they remain inclusive places for everyone, not just those who can afford the new charges. Just as enshrined in the 1871 Act of Parliament and as intended when gifted to the City.

Just like the beach.

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