Campaigners have raised concerns over the impact that a decision to demolish and rebuild the Lee Valley Ice Centre could have on the environment.
Plans to build a new community twin pad ice centre have been approved by Waltham Forest Council with the support of Hackney Town Hall, despite objectors’ warning that the footprint of the proposed building will “permanently destroy” wildlife habitats and trees.
The land on which the centre sits is classified as Metropolitan Open Land, on which there must be shown to be ‘very special circumstances’ to justify such plans, with Waltham Forest planning officers pointing to an assessment and review from Sport England confirming that there is a demand for regional ice time that cannot currently be met by other facilities across London.
A statement from campaign group Save Lea Marshes (SLM) reads: “We are extremely disappointed by the decision to locate the new double-size ice centre on Leyton Marsh. The centre will have an unacceptable impact on the openness of our protected land. It will also destroy precious habitat, including for hedgehogs, a species at risk of extinction who are highly territorial and extremely difficult to re-locate.
“Whilst the [Lee Valley Regional Park] Authority (LVRPA) and users of the ice centre may have made the case for a new ice facility, the case for Very Special Circumstances was not made. It was not proven that the facility needed to be on Leyton Marsh, which is adjacent to a site of special scientific interest and is accessed along a congested single-carriageway road.
“The new ice rink could have easily been accommodated on Eton Manor, at the Olympic Park, as part of a cluster of sporting venues where the transport connections are far better. A facility for Olympic hopefuls would have been best placed on the Olympic Park. After all wasn’t that what it was built for?”
SLM also warned that the plans would see a loss of “precious open space” and mature trees, as well as seeing the Marsh become a construction site, involving the excavation of contaminated land.
Lea Bridge councillors in Hackney have echoed SLM’s concerns, as well as pointing to the impact on the borough’s transport network and characterising the planned building as an “eyesore” for local residents.
In response to objectors’ concerns over the impact on wildlife, planning officers at the neighbouring borough acknowledged that hedgehog habitats on the site are part of a wider network for the animals stretching across Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes, and point to measures to monitor the hedgehog population during the construction of the new ice centre, as well as “enhancements” to their habitat within the landscaping of the building.
Officers also agreed with the fact that green spaces are “vital to residents’ health and wellbeing”, with the plans including investigations of the contaminated land and a construction environmental management plan.
The current centre has been used for 34 years, with Waltham Forest arguing that, as it nears the end of its operational life, its closure would spell “the end of ice activities in east London” without a replacement, pointing to a centre which will offer two Olympic-sized rinks with a doubling in capacity to 557,000 visits per year, with room for 800 spectators.
The plans also promise a “transformed landscape” with new planting around the building, which the authority predicts will increase wildlife and open up access to surrounding green space.
A submission in support of the plans from Hackney Council’s regeneration department said: “The Lee Valley Ice Centre is an important regional sports facility that is used by Hackney residents. The London Borough of Hackney supports the retention and improvement of the Ice Centre which will benefit borough residents, particularly young people, and therefore supports the provision of a new twin pad ice centre on Lea Bridge Road including a new gym, exercise studio, cafés and community spaces.
“The new facility will provide further opportunities for participation in ice sports, expanding both the quantity and range of ice sports, sports and leisure, and community activities available. The health benefits of participation in sport is well known, as is the role it can play in improving social cohesion. The London Borough of Hackney would be interested in linking sports development/physical activity programmes into any new facility.
“The replacement ice centre should bring significant economic benefits to the local area in the form of new jobs both during construction and upon
completion of the new facility, as well as local business supply chain
opportunities and increased visitor spending in the local area as a result of
more people visiting the centre and surrounding amenities.
“The potential increase in vehicle transport and car parking and any associated air quality impact, particularly on Lea Bridge Road, associated with an increase in usage of the facility should be addressed and mitigated. We welcome the proposal of improved cycle facilities at the ice centre.”
Lee Valley Regional Park Authority chief executive Shaun Dawson said: “We’re absolutely thrilled that Waltham Forest Council has approved our plans for the new Lee Valley Ice Centre. We now look forward to a decision from the Mayor of London. The current centre has been serving the community for the last 36 years, providing a safe space for young people from local communities to meet, socialise and stay active – but is nearing the end of its operational life and can’t meet demand.
“We want the new Lee Valley Ice Centre to reach all communities including those less likely to participate in physical activity. The new ice centre would offer more than just ice rinks, with a range of activities and facilities open to all. We’re delighted that the benefits that this project would bring are recognised by the Committee.”
EDIT: This article was updated at 11:54 on Sunday 11 October to include a statement from LVRPA chief executive Shaun Dawson.