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Swimmers fear Men’s Pond changes are aimed at collecting fees

City of London says an overhaul is needed to provide step free access to the water

18 October, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

The machines at the entrance to the Men’s Pond on Hampstead Heath

PLANS for a new entrance to the Men’s Pond on Hampstead Heath have re-opened the long-running debate over whether users should have to pay to swim.

The City of London, which manages the Heath, is looking to move the route into the pond from Millfield Lane to a new gate further north. Members of the Highgate Men’s Pond Association discussed the potential changes at their annual general meeting earlier this month, with some raising concerns that the project was geared to making sure people pay a fee, rather than increasing access.

The argument over whether the City has the right to charge to use the swimming ponds has been rumbling on for more than a decade; there was an attempt to levy a compulsory charge in 2005 but it led to a legal challenge from swimmers.

“Honesty box” machines are now used to collect a £2 charge. Individuals decide whether they want to pay.

The City say the new route is required to provide step-free access for those with disabilities, but critics of the changes say the new route runs past a lifeguard’s hut to put pressure on swimmers to pay.

Association chairman Chris Piefold said: “The HMPA has had meetings with the City to help them formulate a layout that will allow disabled access, work well for swimmers and have as little impact as possible on the plants. All users pass by the lifeguards as they come in from the north side and the City hope that the new layout will encourage more users to pay the self policing charge of £2 per visit.”

He added:“Some of the committee fear having payment machines at the entrance by staff might be the slippery slope to enforcing payment.”

With lifeguards costing around £800,000 annually, and current ticket revenue reaching around £40,000 a year, the City, according to the HMPA, are keen to double the contributions. Swimming club The Highgate Lifebuoys, who have a members’ area, say there are better options.

Chairman Chris Ruocco said: “It would be less disruptive if they made a new path from the south. It would mean they do not come right through our club house, which has been there for decades. It does not make sense in terms of access and there is a fear it is about tickets.”

A City of London spokesman did not comment directly on whether the new entrance was partly to help raise extra funds, but said: “We are continuously working to make improvements across our swimming facilities and to meet rising public demand. We want to increase accessibility through the redesign of the entrance way. The proceeds and contributions from each swimming facility go towards the cost of running that facility, and we thank visitors for their support.”

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