Hampstead Heath ponds charges: Amid protests, committee backs ‘culture change’ plan with final decision imminent

'Ponds not profit'. Hampstead Heath swimmers protest outside of a City of London Corporation meeting

'Ponds not profit'. Hampstead Heath swimmers protest outside of a City of London Corporation meeting. Picture: Sam Volpe - Credit: Archant

Voluntary charges for swimming at the Hampstead Heath ponds “should raise significant funds”, agreed members of the City of London’s (CoLC) Hampstead Heath Consultative Committee on Monday night.

A man lowers himself into the Highgate Men's Pond. Picture: Joshua Thurston

A man lowers himself into the Highgate Men's Pond. Picture: Joshua Thurston - Credit: Archant

A second CoLC committee - the Heath Management Committee - is due to make a final decision on whether to introduce compulsory charges on Wednesday.

Heath bosses have recommended bringing in compulsory payment which would be enforced by the Hampstead Heath rangers. This is known as option three.

But the consultative committee, which is purely advisory and has a membership drawn from nearby civic groups like the Heath and Hampstead Society, warned against 'rushing' to implement a 'more draconian regime'.

Instead, after passionate addresses from members of the swimming groups which use the ponds, the majority of members of the consultative committee - who give non-binding advice to the management committee - backed using the rangers to support a 'culture change' and support payment - option two.

The Hampstead Heath Mixed Pond. Picture: Joshua Thurston

The Hampstead Heath Mixed Pond. Picture: Joshua Thurston - Credit: Archant

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Thomas Radice, the Heath and Hampstead Society's rep on the committee said: 'The society favours option two, it's as simple as that.

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'In our view it is up to the swimmers to fund and to cover increased costs caused by increase in visitors', he said, but added: 'The society has not been persuaded by the City of the need at this moment to move from option one [the status quo] to option three without any intermediate trial of option two.'

The chairs of the respective swimming associations all reiterated their concern that not enough had been done to encourage voluntary or philanthropic payments.

Nicky Mayhew, who chairs the Kenwood Ladies' Pond Association, said compulsory charging would be exclusionary, citing the benefits of the ladies' pond for victims of abuse. She said: 'It is unthinkable that the City would exclude people in need of sanctuary who could not afford the price of admission.'

She added work to improve ease of payments and better signage would see 'cultural change bloom'.

Committee member Michael Hammerson of the Highgate Society said: 'If the charges were reasonable enough and it were easy enough to pay, people would do it. Just to suddenly after 15 years rush into a much more draconian regime is going to rebound on the City.'

City officials have said they need to make sure other activities on the Heath do not suffer due to the subsidy required for the bathing ponds.

At the meeting, Karina Dostalova, chair of the CoLC's Hampstead Heath Management Committee decline to put the issue to a vote, saying: 'I don't think it's fair to put members on the spot.' She added: 'We have committed to reporting back to the management committee what's been said here and we will do so. We will report the clear view in favour of option two.'

The decision will be taken in the afternoon of March 11.

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