Who will pay for new Heath ponds lifeguards?
Safety review follows inquest into the death of a swimmer
16 January, 2020 — By Dan Carrier
A REVIEW of swimming on Hampstead Heath is set to take place after its managers, the City of London, were told they should increase the number of lifeguards on duty.
The Health and Safety Executive has advised that more resources are needed to keep bathers safe as cold water swimming becomes more popular.
Its guidance followed the tragic death of architect Christopher Slamon, 54, who died in the Men’s Pond last June. Heath managers and groups representing swimmers met on Tuesday to discuss how more lifeguards could be paid for.
A series of further meetings are planned before the Heath’s management committee consider the issue in March.
The City said it wants to gauge the views of pond users so they can “remain safe, sustainable and meet the growing demand”.
The Kenwood Ladies Pond Association chairwoman Nicky Mayhew told the New Journal they recognised the increasing demand on Heath staff and looked forward to helping find answers.
She added: “This is the beginning of a discussion over the general management of the ponds. “Health and safety of swimmers and staff is obviously paramount. Over the past three years there has been a large increase in numbers of swimmers, increasing pressure on lifeguards. We also recognise this puts the Heath’s budget under pressure.”
The City said no decision has been made to change charges to swim.
The ponds were originally built as reservoirs in the 18th century but have now earned a global reputation as one of the finest places to swim outdoors.
But their growing popularity has put extra strain on staff. Historically free, in 2005 the City attempted to introduce charging.
This led to a legal battle which resulted in the operation of honesty box-style ticket machines.
They do not raise enough money to cover the cost of managing the three ponds, however.
Other swimming groups expressed concerns that the need for extra lifeguard cover and to manage large crowds attempting to enter the water – often on hot days from the banks, which is not allowed – could lead to the City increasing charges to swim or trying to enforce ticketing.
Robert Sutherland Smith, the chairman of the United Swimmers Association (USA) covering all swimming ponds and the Lido, told the New Journal: “Swimmers are concerned that this consultation exercise will be used as an excuse to raise the cost of swimming or to make it compulsory to pay.”
He added: “The City is a well-funded organisation who took on the stewardship of the Heath, aware that swimming in the ponds was free and considered a natural right on this common land, but every year since they have managed it, we have heard them plead poverty.”
He added: “They have been saying this for years. Furthermore, [our association] has not seen evidence provided to swimmers that there will be a long-term and steady rise in numbers. We would like to see statistics.”
Hampstead Heath management committee chairwoman Karina Dostalova said: “We recognise the growing popularity of the Heath’s swimming facilities as an opportunity for Londoners to step away from their busy lives. We want to make sure that we have the right resources in place to serve this purpose and maintain visitor safety.”
She added: “That is why we are reviewing arrangements now to ensure our facilities are safe, enjoyable and accessible for everybody in the years to come.”
An inquest found Mr Slamon, who lived in Highgate, had drowned after a heart attack.