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‘Save Our Ponds’: Petition launched to fight compulsory charges for Hampstead Heath swimmers

PUBLISHED: 18:18 14 July 2020 | UPDATED: 16:54 15 July 2020

Protests outside the Guildhall in March when the compulsory charges were approved by the City of London Corporation. Picture: Sam Volpe

Protests outside the Guildhall in March when the compulsory charges were approved by the City of London Corporation. Picture: Sam Volpe

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A campaign to fight compulsory charges to swim at Hampstead Heath has been launched days after the ponds reopened for the first time since lockdown.

Swimmers were delighted to be back at the ponds on Saturday - but others were Swimmers were delighted to be back at the ponds on Saturday - but others were "shut out" by the booking website. Picture: PA

The trial run by the City of London Corporation (CoLC), which started on Saturday (July 11), was also the first time the new fees – £2.40 for concessions, £4 for adults – had been imposed.

Two days later, the ‘Save Our Ponds’ campaign and petition – signed by 343 people (as of July 14) - was started by Forum ‘71 which demanded an end to compulsory charging.

The new fees to swim at the Heath were passed by the CoLC in March but have faced major opposition from local residents and swimming associations who believe they should remain free as a space of public leisure.

The CoLC says the charges are necessary to keep the ponds financially sustainable and safe for swimmers.

Forum ‘71 organiser Alix Lemkin said: “A new compulsory charging system that took effect when the ponds reopened at the weekend is socially cleansing the bathing ponds by excluding many people - not least the disabled, people without easy internet access, or anyone facing financial hardship.

“I have swum here for most of my life and like many others I treasure my common law right to access all parts of the Heath freely.

“It is wrong for the Corporation to now enclose the ponds and demand payment to access them.”

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The Save Our Ponds campaign is vowing to “protect the unique ethos, culture and open access of the bathing ponds in perpetuity”.

It is also setting out to persuade the CoLC to reinstate voluntary payment “without the use of intrusive data surveillance technology to tag swimmers”.

The reopening of Hampstead Heath’s bathing ponds and Parliament Hill Lido on Saturday was marred by problems with bookings.

Swimming associations of the men’s and ladies’ ponds bemoaned the booking website which regularly crashed and left many unsure if they had secured a spot.

Anne Fairweather, chair of the CoLC’s Hampstead Heath management committee, said: “This group’s petition contains false and misleading information.

“The new swimming charges were agreed by the elected Hampstead Heath management committee, following a detailed review and consultation with swimmers and the Heath consultative committee.

“Both the City Corporation and the swimmers agreed that action needed to be taken to ensure the welfare of the lifeguards, who were coming under increasing pressure after swimming numbers doubled in the last decade.”

The Save Our Ponds campaign can be viewed here and the petition here.

READ MORE: Swimmers return to Hampstead Heath ponds and Parliament Hill Lido - but ‘abysmal’ booking website ‘riddled with problems’


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