MPs challenge Hampstead Heath ponds swimming charges hike
- Credit: Catherine West MP/PA
Swimmers’ associations and local MPs have voiced their opposition to proposals to increase charges at the Hampstead Heath Bathing Ponds and Parliament Hill Lido.
The City of London Corporation (CoLC) plans to raise the majority of swimming charges by 1.3% – the rate of inflation – subject to a vote of the Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood & Queen’s Park Committee on February 24.
An adult ticket for a single session at the ponds would rise from £4 to £4.05p, and for concessions from £2.40 to £2.43.
Concession rates for season tickets, however, would jump by 21% for a six-month pass (from £33 to £40.11), and 15% for a 12-month pass (from £66 to £75.97).
The price rises, if approved, would take effect from April 1. They come amid budget cuts by the CoLC totalling £1.6m for 2021/22.
Tulip Siddiq, Hampstead and Kilburn's MP, told the Ham&High: “I raised my concerns about compulsory swimming charging last year, and I am disappointed by the plan to increase fees this year.
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"We should not be excluding anyone who wants to enjoy this amazing natural facility, and particularly those who will struggle to afford the charges or may find card payments difficult.
“I will be raising this again with the City of London Corporation to stress the importance of making sure that everyone is able to enjoy the Hampstead Heath ponds when they reopen.”
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Dr Eleanor Kennedy, chair of the Parliament Hill Lido User Group, said that while she acknowledged the CoLC’s “huge” loss of income over the last year, the move could have a “profound” impact on some swimmers’ access.
“People's physical and mental health are suffering hugely with these closures as many of us rely on swimming at the lido to support us in our day-to-day lives, Dr Kennedy said.
“I have asked the Corporation to reconsider its stance or to run the risk of losing a lot of goodwill with some of the Heath's core, year-round groups of users.”
Hornsey and Wood Green MP Catherine West, who is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Swimming, said she was “hopeful” that the CoLC would "recognise the strength of feeling" and reconsider its proposals.
“As many know I am a great lover of the Ponds and a keen swimmer, and remain deeply concerned about the proposed charges and the impact that will be felt by swimmers on low-incomes,” Ms West said.
“The mental and physical health benefits of swimming are not in dispute and as Londoners have only limited access to the water we should be opposing any moves to stop people being able to swim.”
Mary Powell, vice-chair of Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association (KLPA), said: “We urge the City of London not to push ahead with further punitive price rises, hitting those on low incomes hardest, and instead to work with the swimmers’ associations.
“We have offered all along to encourage payment by those who can afford it whilst avoiding exclusion of those who cannot.”
A survey conducted by KLPA suggested that the compulsory charging system – introduced in July – had left 24.5% of the 600 respondents unable to afford to swim at the Heath.
Geoff Goss, from Highgate Mens’ Pond Association, said the increased charges were a “logical consequence” of compulsory charging and that Londoners had lost an “urban beach”.
The CoLC said it is consulting on swimming charges amid price increases for other facilities such as athletics, bowls and tennis.
“The majority are increased in line with inflation, or to align with comparable facilities across London,” a spokesperson 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 £2.43.
“We have a comprehensive support scheme for people who cannot afford to pay to swim. This package includes free or discounted swimming for the elderly, disabled people, job seekers, students, children and volunteers.
“We are also offering discounts to people on universal credit and personal independence payment.”
Dependent on government restrictions, the CoLC plans to reopen the bathing ponds on March 29, which are currently closed due to Covid-19.