26 February 2020
This meeting for members of the pond users’ associations, was called at short notice when swimmers’ representatives feared that the City was not listening to their views over the future management of the ponds. Fears were confirmed when on February 24th the City unveiled their intentions at the Sports Forum.
We now know that despite a supposed consultation with swimmers reps which began in January 2020 and involved many hours of meetings the City is proposing, against the advice of all the associations, to double day charges (to £4 per adult) and to enforce them strictly, probably by staffing the entrances to the pond enclosures.
The full set of proposals and options considered can be found summarised in this article.
The background to this is quite complicated and for those who do not know it there is a short summary at the end of this report.
Attendance at the meeting was counted as 103, (36 from the HMPA, 55 from the KLPA, 14 from the MPA 6 from the Lifebuoys and one from the USA)
Proceedings were moderated by Marc Hutchinson, Chair of the Heath and Hampstead Society. Speakers were Chris Piesold from the HMPA and Nicola Mayhew from the KLPA. Margaret Dickinson from the MPA responded to questions relating to the Mixed Pond.
Chris provided some background about the financial situation. This year the City expects the new pond staffing bill will be £300,000 plus above previous costs. There has been increased expenditure for summer problems over the last two years but the picture of ever rising costs the City presents is not quite accurate. Over the last ten years inflation adjusted net expenditure has been cut 36% for the Heath as a whole and 9% for the ponds. The % of expenditure recovered from income has doubled in the last 10 years indicative of the City's apparent intention to commodify the Heath to the maximum extent. City’s cash, the fund from which the expenses are paid, had net assets of £2.7 billion in 2019.
Nicola reported on the background, the present consultation and the position taken by the KLPAS and other associations.
There was a lively discussion during which many speakers stressed the unique character of the ponds and criticised the notion that they can be compared to open air lido or water sports venues. Most contributions supported the stand taken by the associations in opposing increased charges and heavy handed enforcement; about three speakers cast doubt on this position.
THE FOLLOWING MOTIONS WERE PUT TO THE VOTE AND AGREED BY A LARGE MAJORITY OF THOSE ATTENDING
Brief background to charging at the Hampstead Heath Ponds.
Until 2005 swimming was free and the running costs of the ponds were provided by the Heath management which before 1987 was the GLC. Following the abolition of the GLC, the City of London took over management in 1989. In 2005 the City was looking to reduce its costs and shocked Heath and pond users by proposals to close the Mixed Pond and reduce hours at the remaining ponds. After a major public campaign a compromise was reached whereby swimming was not radically curtailed and the present charges for swimming were introduced but were not rigorously enforced. This scheme in practice did not bring in as much revenue as the City hoped. The City assert that this is because few swimmers are willing to pay but the swimmers’ associations maintain that the City failed to introduce efficient methods to pay. For many years the associations have been telling the City that there is a lack of clear information about how to pay, that the payment machines are often out of order and that it is not easy to get a season ticket. Only this year has it been possible to pay for a season ticket online and even now you do not receive a ticket or even receipt unless you go to the lido.
The present push by the City to reduce costs follows a report by the Health and Safety Executive which recommended that the City increase the staffing of the ponds which will clearly put up costs. The City started a consultation with the swimming associations in January this year about measures they wish to introduce in May. The process for doing this will be to put a proposal to the Heath Consultative Committee on March 9th which will in turn make a recommendation to the Heath Management Committee on March 11th. The public may attend but not speak at these meetings.
During the consultation with the swimmers’ reps the City outlined a series of options about the scale of charges and method of enforcement. The swimmers’ rep.s strongly recommended that for the coming season the City adopt the option of minimal change while putting right the problems with information and payment. In those circumstances they offered to cooperate with these improvements and encourage a culture whereby people play unless they cannot afford to or have strong objections on principle. Instead the Superintendent of Hampstead Heath intend to put to the management Committee the option involving the doubling day charges combined with strict enforcement. The season ticket, however, will be held at the current price this season and more concessions are suggested.