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Ready to get back into the water? You’ll have to pay

Hampstead Heath ponds could be open again early next month after virus shutdown

18 June, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

HAMPSTEAD Heath’s swimming ponds could re-open within weeks – and for the first time in more than 150 years, those who fancy a dip will have to pay to get back into the water.

The Men’s, Ladies’ and Mixed ponds, closed since mid-March, would see strict new rules in place to keep lifeguards and visitors safe if they are given the go-ahead to reopen next month.

But swimming associations have reacted angrily to the news that charging is set to be introduced through hour-long bathing slots booked online. The decision to bring in ticketing, taken before lockdown, had already caused controversy after irate exchanges earlier in the year. Charges had been voluntary using an honesty box system, while prices are doubling to £4, and concessions from £1 to £2.40.

Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association (KLPA) Chairwoman Nicky Mayhew said a committee set up to liaise with the City of London, managers of the Heath, had been bypassed.

“The consultative committee is made up of local people, many of whom are on the Heath every day,” said Ms Mayhew. “They were persuaded by our arguments to look at how to make it easier to pay – but not to make it compulsory. That they were ignored bodes ill for democracy.”

A statement from KLPA said: “The ponds are part of the natural environment, people have swum in them for centuries in the same casual way as those who live by the sea might take a daily dip while walking on the beach. This is very different to people choosing to visit a municipal swimming pool.”

The City has confirmed that one way systems, timed slots, and a temporary no sunbathing rule will be introduced. At the Men’s Pond, a barrier fencing off an area for naturists will be removed for a temporary period. This will be re-installed when social distancing measures are more widely relaxed.

With space limited to 30 swimmers an hour at the Men’s and Ladies’ ponds, 20 an hour at the Mixed, and 100 at the Lido, some swimmers also fear Heath Rangers will face a tough job ensuring bathers don’t jump in from banks on hot days.

Chair of the Heath Management Committee Anne Fairweather said charges were introduced after “close engagement” with swimmers and both the City and swimming associations agreed with the need to have more lifeguards.

This followed recommendations from the Health and Safety Executive following the death of a swimmer in the water last year. New technology will monitor how many people are in the water.

She added: “To ensure the ponds are run with a sustainable management model, the City has changed its payment scheme for using the swimming facilities to reflect these rising costs. We are working closely with swimmers to make sure resources are in place to ensure the facilities can be safety enjoyed by all for years to come, and we will continue to collaborate with them as we implement these changes.”

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