Swim pond battle in the High Court

'The councillors who make these decisions were elected by a tiny number in the Square Mile'

Thursday, 3rd March — By Dan Carrier

Pond Swimmers_2

Swimmers campaigning outside the Royal Courts of Justice

SWIMMERS went head to head with Hampstead Heath’s managers, the City of London, in a second day of legal arguments at the High Court.

Lord Justice Cotter heard barristers dispute whether charges for open air swimming in the ponds had discriminated against the disabled.

The controversial fees were introduced two years ago, ending centuries of free bathing.

The City’s legal team argued on Thursday that due to a boom in popularity of swimming it needed to provide more lifeguards and required extra funds to keep the ponds open.

But the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association, backed by other swim groups told the New Journal as the two-day judicial review hearing came to an end that the ticketing regime – and how it was enforced – had meant swathes of people were no longer able to take a dip.

KLPA joint chairwoman Mary Powell said: “We have had so much feedback about how this has excluded people. This has been made clear in our witness statements and the data we provided – and we did a thorough survey, unlike the City.”

She added: “There is no accountability and representation. The councillors who make these decisions were elected by a tiny number in the Square Mile.

“They have huge influence on open spaces, while people who live nearby and use them have no say, and no way to hold these barely elected councillors to account.

“This common land is increasingly becoming over-regulated and seen as a source of income. Given the City’s wealth, they are quibbling about a very small amount.”

Barrister Zoe Leventhal, representing disabled swimmer Christina Efthimiou who brought the High Court case,told the hearing: “The ponds were historically free. That is a unique asset. Since 2005, tickets have been voluntary. It has created an open and inclusive atmosphere.

“The best comparison is a beach – this is not about an elite activity in Hampstead. It is quite the opposite.”

Defending the City’s decision to impose a ticketing regime and increase the costs of swims, barrister Clive Sheldon told the court: “It is to do with financial circumstances, not about whether you are disabled. It would be unfair for others to subsidise swimmers…

“It is cheap compared to comparable places. They [the City] have already applied a substantial discount of 40 per cent.”

Mr Sheldon argued extra subsidies would come at a cost to the overall Heath budget and said the City’s overseeing charity “had no obligations” to offer reduced prices or free swims.

He told Lord Justice Cotter plans for a hardship fund were also unworkable and that City staff had believed it would mean making a value judgement between users.

He added: “We do not have any evidence that charging has affected any one else with the same disabilities as the claimant. We have her evidence – but not from others.”

A City spokeswoman said: “Hampstead Heath is a charity, and its swimming facilities are accessible to people of all abilities and backgrounds.

“The charity offers a huge range of support to disabled swimmers, and our staff work hard to ensure a friendly, welcoming atmosphere.”

 

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