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Online book-a-swim policy won’t work at the ponds, Heath chiefs told

City of London looks at how to manage demand for freshwater dips

02 April, 2021 — By Dan Carrier

SWIMMERS are urging Hampstead Heath managers to scrap an online booking system for the bathing ponds.

With the arrival of glorious sunshine this week and a relaxation on coronavirus rules, hardened swimmers took their first dips of 2021 but regulars fear it will not continue to be so easy to get back into water when an online booking system kicks in.

From May 1 – the start of the summer season – users will have to book sessions a week in advance, which critics say leads to wasted slots due to no shows.

Until then, swimmers have been allowed to go in without buying a ticket in advance online if the ponds are not full up – and there is now an appeal to keep this “show up and swim” policy.

Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association co-chair­woman Mary Powell said: “The use of ‘capped, free flow’ until the end of April is welcome and follows pressure from the swimming associations. We hope to see this continue as far as possible after May 1, and at least for the early morning sessions so that swimmers can get to the ponds before going to work, without needing to pre-book.”

She added: “We have members who are key workers who would benefit from such access. We also hope to see all pre-booking scrapped in accordance with any lifting of coronavirus restrictions through the summer, as well as removal of stewards from the gates when, hopefully, test and trace is not required.

“It will be good to see spontaneity come back to the bathing ponds in place of over-regulation.”

The Men’s and Ladies’ ponds can hold 60 people, and the Mixed Pond has room for 40.

Swimmers say current demand means the ticketing system wastes funds, leads to swathes of no-shows, and stops the most vulnerable from using the ponds

The City introduced compulsory charges to swim in the ponds after a review of safety conclu­ded that there needed to be more lifeguards. Despite furious protests, it argues the ponds are heavily subsidised compared to other activities and the City currently spends around £5million on maintaining the Heath annually.

The Heath’s management committee approved the fees and said swimmers should be prepared to help meet rising costs of running the ponds. But swimmers argue the investment fund which pays for the Heath, City’s Cash, has assets of more than £2.5billion and should use funds to ensure open air swimming in the ponds does not become an exclusive choice for those who can afford to pay.

Anne Fairweather, chair of the City of London Corporation’s Heath Management Committee, said: “The safety of swimmers and lifeguards is our number-one priority and we are continuing to operate within a Covid-secure environment. There is currently no booking process for swimmers, it is all free flow at the moment.

“We are considering some form of booking system for after May 1, however nothing has been agreed as yet as we need to reflect on how the current system is working. We do foresee social distancing arrangements will be needed for some more time yet. Feedback from swimmers has been very positive following the reopening.”

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