The City of London Corporation has undemocratically imposed increased and compulsory charges for entry to the Hampstead Heath bathing ponds.
The Heath bathing ponds are unique gems for natural water swimming and cherished by many who spend time there in order to maintain their mental and physical health. There has been swimming here for at least 200 years, enjoyed under a common law right of access to all part of the Heath.
By setting increased, compulsory charges the City of London corporation is limiting access to public space while commodifying and commercialising the Heath.
This would be bad in any year, but at a time of unprecedented health and financial challenges and growing inequalities, it is unforgivable.
If you're affected by the new charges, tell the City of London Corporation to reverse their decision. After you hit send, and email will go straight to the decision maker of your choice at the City of London, from your email address. The more personal you make your message, the more they'll take notice.
Remember you can use the dropdown menu in the 'select a target' field to send your email to different people. (You'll find the message you've just sent in your email 'sent' folder if you want to use what you've written again!)
Here are some talking points to help get you started:
- Write about which pond(s) you swim in and why. How does the increased & compulsory charging regime affect you? (Try not to get too bogged down in the details of how they are implementing those charges)
- The 1871 Hampstead Heath Act defines the Heath as a public open space ‘that should forever remain unenclosed’, and the Law of Property Act 1925 (Section 193) states any member of the public has a right to access common land like the Heath 'freely (with or without a ticket) for air and exercise’.
- Open access to a nature is a public good: The Heath and its ponds are commons that should be freely accessible for everyone to enjoy. It's like going to the beach!
- The City is engaging in an act of commodification & gentrification of public, natural space. It has a responsibility to maintain the Heath for all Londoners to enjoy.
- For regular swimmers, the pond is an oasis they rely on for mental and physical wellbeing. You can read the Save Our Ponds survey report here.
- Social capital is also recognised as vital for health and longevity. The social aspect of the ponds provide that lifeline for many. They are communities, not commodities or facilities
- Swimming at the ponds is a great leveller, a place where people from all walks of life, backgrounds and ages meet in shared enjoyment. The barriers -- fiscal, physical, digital -- that the City is putting in place shuts many out.
- With lockdown, we have been shown all too acutely how uneven access to green spaces and nature is already: these compulsory charges will only exacerbate that inequality.
- New proposals for the 2020-21 winter swim season are here.
- The City initially offered a mitigation for compulsory charges by way of a 'hardship fund'. This is problematic not least because research shows having to ‘prove hardship’ for benefits worsens mental health. But they have even dropped this and are now proposing a 'support scheme' which is made up of repackaged existing measures, not new support.
- The City continues to seek to exclude swimmers in favour of maximising income.
- The City likes to claim that the charges were agreed following a consultation and in agreement with swimmers. This is simply not true -- even the City's own Heath Consultative Committee opposed the new charges. More information on that here.
For more information and background, see here.