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Hampstead Heath swimming ponds: Sir Keir Starmer asks for equalities reassurance over post-Covid charging regime

PUBLISHED: 17:25 19 August 2020 | UPDATED: 09:28 20 August 2020

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer during a visit to Whitmore Park Primary School in Coventry. Photograph: Jacob King/PA.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer during a visit to Whitmore Park Primary School in Coventry. Photograph: Jacob King/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

Holborn and St Pancras MP Sir Keir Starmer has waded into the row over charging to swim on Hampstead Heath to ask why the City of London Corporation (CoLC) refused to trial the system of encouraging voluntary payments endorsed by swimming groups.

Protesters walk over Hampstead Heath towards the ponds on as part of the Save Our Ponds campaign on Sunday July 26. Picture: Polly Hancock.Protesters walk over Hampstead Heath towards the ponds on as part of the Save Our Ponds campaign on Sunday July 26. Picture: Polly Hancock.

The Labour MP also asked about a “hardship fund” to be advertised and said it was a “concern” that the web-booking system for swimming sessions excluded those in digital poverty.

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In a letter to Heath bosses, he wrote that he wanted “to understand the rationale behind refusing to at least trial Option 2, or a version of it that could be made ‘Covid-secure’”. Option 2 would have seen charges remain optional but a concerted effort to encourage payment and make it easier.

Sir Keir asked for assurances that vulnerable swimmers were able to book to swim either in person or over the phone. He also asked for those who had previously paid for season tickets to be refunded, and for the “hardship fund” – referenced by the CoLC when charges were approved in March – to be implemented and advertised.

A booking phone number – 020 7332 3779 – is available to those who cannot use the online system between 9 and 11am each day.

A string of north London MPs have now contacted the CoLC over the issue – including his Labour colleagues Tulip Siddiq, Catherine West and Jeremy Corbyn.

Mary Powell, committtee member of the Kenwood Ladies Pond Association (KLPA), said: “Sir Keir Starmer is clearly taking a strong interest, and I believe all of the MPs are following up with the CoLC, particularly about the hardship fund.”

Mary added that the charges helped to make the swimming community less diverse, and discouraged a wider cross-section of people from taking the dip.

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“It’s never just been this twee idea of ‘ladies who lunch’ swimming. We are trying to protect a genuinely diverse community.”

The KLPA is now in touch with law firm Leigh Day who are able to offer advice to those who may have been disadvantaged by the post-Covid system.

Anne Fairweather, who chairs the CoLC’s Hampstead Heath Management Committee, said: “The Heath’s swimming facilities are accessible to people of all abilities and backgrounds.

“We are providing subsidised swimming with fair pricing, with concessions bringing down the cost of adult swimming to as low as £2.40.

“These affordable prices - including a freeze in season ticket charges for next year - were agreed by the elected Hampstead Heath Management Committee following a consultation with swimmers and other user groups.

“We will also be introducing a new support scheme for people who cannot afford to pay to swim.

“With the introduction of temporary measures put in place to safely reopen swimming in light of ovid-19, an equality impact test of relevance was undertaken.

“Hampstead Heath is thriving under our stewardship, attracting over 10 million visits a year and a record number of swimmers.”

The Forum ‘71 group continues its campaign against charging on August 22, with a demo focussing on LGBTQ disenfranchisement at the ponds beginning at the model boating pond from 2pm.


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