Swimmers launch legal challenge to charges at Hampstead Heath Ponds

Mary Powell (left) vice-chair of the Kenwood Ladies' Pond Association with swimmer Ann Griffin

Mary Powell (left) vice-chair of the Kenwood Ladies' Pond Association with swimmer Ann Griffin outside of the Hampstead Heath Ladies' Pond - Credit: Leigh Day/KLPA

A swimming group has announced a legal challenge to the City of London Corporation’s (CoLC) decision last year to impose mandatory fees to swim in Hampstead Heath’s bathing ponds.

With law firm Leigh Day, the Kenwood Ladies Pond Association (KLPA) and swimmer Ann Griffin – who is registered blind – have submitted a “letter before action” to the CoLC. This is the first step a process which could see them seek a judicial review.

Swimming campaigners outside of the City of London Corporation's Guildhall HQ in 2020

Swimming campaigners outside of the City of London Corporation's Guildhall HQ in 2020 - Credit: Sarah Saunders

They say increased charges for swimming, agreed in February, are discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010 and interfere with swimmers’ human rights.

The KLPA has asked for the fees to revert to a self-policed system priced at £2 for adults and £1 for concessions, and for access to be free for those on benefits or low income.

The CoLC has always maintained compulsory fees are necessary to ensure the sustainability of the Ponds.

A spokesperson for KLPA said: “The Ladies’ Pond is a unique women-only space for swimming and relaxation that also provides a place of refuge and security for women and girls of all ages, including those who  have suffered violence, abuse and coercive control; those with disabilities; low paid and unwaged carers; and those from religious faiths that require modest dress and segregation of the sexes.

“The KLPA believes that the City of London has disregarded the important role of the swimming ponds in the traditional fabric of life on and around the Heath and the ways in which local people use them.”

Most Read

Ann Griffin, who is a member of the KLPA, added: “I have swum at the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond for over 20 years, and through the winter for four.  It has been a fundamental part of my health and wellbeing.  In the last year the new charging and booking arrangements have made this so difficult for me due to health and financial reasons. "

She said she had had to "depend on the financial help of others to be able to swim there at all, and cannot imagine how I will be able to continue to do so". 

Ann added she felt the addition of a financial barrier to swimming at the ponds had disrupted the "inclusive community" there. 

Leigh Day solicitor Kate Egerton said: “Our clients are passionate about protecting the Hampstead Heath Ponds for the use of everyone who wants to use them, regardless of their financial means.

“They believe that by pricing many swimmers out of access to the ponds, the City of London Corporation has discriminated against their members and deprived many swimmers of an important aspect of their private life as protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Last October, in response to Ms Griffin’s concerns about the affordability of swimming for people with disabilities, the CoLC said the Ponds “are accessible to people of all abilities and backgrounds”.

A CoLC spokesperson said: “We deny any suggestion that the decision to bring in charging for swimming at the Bathing Ponds is discriminatory or unlawful.

“Charging for access to sporting and recreational facilities in public open spaces is a longstanding and recognised practice, supported by clear statutory powers by public bodies across the country.

“Hampstead Heath is a registered charity and its swimming facilities are accessible to people of all abilities and backgrounds."

They added it was providing "subsidised swimming with fair pricing" and that there are concessions for a range of groups including those in receipt of benefits or with a Disabled Card and a "comprehensive support scheme" in place.