Wimbledon Park summer swimming plans afloat despite council indecision

By Ellen Halliday
March 5 2020, 13.00

Cold, wet and illegal – the future of open water swimming in Wimbledon Park remains uncertain after Merton Council failed to approve proposed plans.

A group of Wimbledon-based bathers known as Swimbledon wants to run early morning swim sessions from May until September each year.

Swimbledon founder Stuart Coleman, 43, was sure the proposal would be rubber-stamped on 24 February in time for springtime pilot sessions.

Yet councillors were unconvinced by the plan’s health and safety provisions. A regular lap swimmer died at lifeguard-staffed Highgate Ponds in June 2019.

They also raised questions about whether planning rules could hinder swimming in the Grade II listed park, which was designed by the famous 18th century landscape architect Capability Brown.

The decision was cancelled at the last minute.

A family of ducks swim in Wimbledon Park
Mr Coleman insists “You can swim without disturbing the ducks” STUART COLEMAN

Mr Coleman said: “Everything was dotted and ticked. A member of the cabinet made objections that showed a lack of education about open water swimming.”

Under the plans, strong adult swimmers could take dips in the 1.75m deep pool outside normal park opening hours.

This is in contrast to Highgate Ponds, which is open to leisure swimmers throughout the day all year round.

According to Swimbledon, lifeguards funded by a swimmers’ fee would be present during sessions.

Water-quality specialists SwimSafety confirmed the lake was safe and Swimbledon planned a 400m course that avoids angler’s hooks.

More than 3,000 people have signed a petition on which backs the plans.

Kizzie Fenner, 31, a lawyer, said: “It’s an amazing public space. If we can make it safe why wouldn’t we use the lake?”

The council did not confirm whether the proposals would be discussed at the next Cabinet meeting in March.

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