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This Britain

Free pond swimming may sink without trace

One of London's most celebrated free pastimes, swimming in Hampstead Ponds, could be about to start costing.

The Corporation of London, which runs Hampstead Heath, is considering charging £2 to anyone wanting to take a plunge from next summer amid the mounting cost of lifeguards and a stubborn budget deficit. It is also embroiled in a costly High Court challenge to its decision to ban early-morning winter swimming to comply with safety laws.

Suggestions that the ponds, which have been providing free swimming since 1860, were about to be closed to save money caused much concern to Hampstead residents. The former Labour leader Michael Foot, the writer Lord Bragg and the travel presenter Michael Palin added their voices to a campaign to save them. Last week the London mayor, Ken Livingstone, threatened to take over the site unless a solution was found. The local MP, Glenda Jackson, tabled a Commons motion urging ministers to intervene.

A spokesman for the corporation said yesterday: "We are still looking at all the options." A public meeting on the future of the ponds is due to be held on 10 January and a decision taken in February.