Hampstead Heath Ponds: Compulsory charges discussed in lively debate as part of Ham&High Q&A
- Credit: Archant
Compulsory charges, disability access and the licensing of professional dog walkers were all discussed as part of the Ham&High’s Q&A on the Hampstead Heath Ponds on Monday.
Held over a Zoom video call, members of the public put questions to the City of London Corporation (CoLC), with the event chaired by Ham&High editor André Langlois.
Representing the CoLC was Anne Fairweather, chair of the Hampstead Heath management committee; Bob Warnock, superintendent for Hampstead Heath, and Colin Buttery, director of open spaces.
In July, following a review by the CoLC, compulsory charges were introduced to the Ponds for the first time. It now costs £4 for adults to swim and £2.40 for concessions.
Some swimmers say it is wrong to charge for use of part of the Heath, citing the Hampstead Heath Act of 1871, but the CoLC told the audience the legal basis for compulsory charges was made clear in its committee report in March, when they were approved.
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Nicky Mayhew, former chair of the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association (KLPA), said that for a lot of people £4 is an “enormous” amount of money, particularly during the pandemic.
The CoLC responded by saying that its concessionary rate was available to people on Universal Credit and that it is looking to make its support scheme accessible to more people.
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Harriet Wills, from the KLPA, called for free swims to be given to people with long-term disabilities who cannot afford the concessionary rate.
Opposing compulsory charges, Nina Owen, a Ponds swimmer since 2017, called the Ponds a “haven” and a “sanctuary” for people to go without being bothered.
Ms Fairweather said the Ponds take up a fifth of Hampstead Heath’s £5m budget and that compulsory charges help balance the books.
“If you have experience of swimming in the ponds, it’s very much like swimming in nature and that’s what people love about the ponds,” she said.
“But that also comes at a cost which CoLC meets, both in terms of maintaining the ponds and providing lifeguards, so there is a cost there, and we can’t get around that.”
Ms Fairweather said the previous voluntary payment system did not raise enough funds - but swimmers said the payment machines did not work.
Judith Perle asked why swimmers were being treated differently to other Heath users by being charged. The CoLC said it is looking at “commercial activities” for raising funds, including the licensing of professional dog walkers.