Here’s Vicky Sholund’s multi-faceted objection to the new Lee Valley Ice Centre being situated at Leyton Marsh.
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Application number: 194162
I am writing as someone who lives in Hackney and spends at least a couple of hours every day on the marshes. I have lived here for about 30 years and in the past few years have seen an incredible increase in the number of people walking and spending quiet time in the marshes. This means there is a need for more green space to accommodate all of these people, not less. I have also known people over the years who have used the ice centre, and none of them have used it because it is on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL). They would quite happily use a new one if it was easy enough to access, which Eton Manor is.
It does not constitute part of this objection to make a case for another site although I think a good case could be made in for Eton Manor if the LVRPA are keen to build a new ice centre. Eton Manor was one of the sites originally being considered by the LVRPA for the new ice centre, the MOL reports states: “5.26 Subject to detailed feasibility assessment, the site could make a good location for the Lea Valley Ice Centre.”
The main basis of my objection is to point out that the reasons the applicant has given as Very Special Circumstances (VSC) for building on this site do not constitute Very Special Circumstances – not as individual points, nor do the individual points add up to one large VSC.
Here are some of the VSC that the applicant lists and the arguments against:
- The LVRPA’s “duty”. Paragraph 16.21 states that the LVRPA “has a statutory duty to develop sports and leisure facilities in the Regional Park. Since 95% of the Park is Green Belt or MOL, it is likely that some new facilities will be developed on protected land.” But the LVRPA has a “statutory duty” to do many things under the 1966 Act, and the provision of sports and leisure facilities is only one part (and not necessarily the most important part) of its remit. And, more importantly, nothing in the 1966 Act says that the need to provide such facilities entitles the LVRPA to override other considerations. The 1966 Act does not give a minimum provision of any particular facilities, so such provision should be subject to all other relevant constraints. There is no basis for arguing that the need to provide a specific facility constitutes a VSC. The fact that the LVRPA currently provides skating facilities to the public does not place any obligation on it to go on doing so. Until 2012, the LVRPA provided golfing facilities at the Waterworks. When it stopped doing so, this was not because of any lack of demand from the public, but because it thought that it could make more money by using the Waterworks site for other purposes. There was enough protest from golfers at the time, that the LVRPA promised to re-open the golf course after the Olympics campsite, but broke that promise.
It is simply impossible to argue that increasing the townscape justifies the development when it runs entirely contrary to the concept of appropriate development on MOL (Paragraph 7.56 of the London Plan states that, ‘Appropriate development should be limited to small scale structures to support outdoor open space uses and minimise any adverse impact on the openness of MOL.’
- The need to have an operational ice centre. The present ice centre is nearing the end of its life and will soon no longer be able to function. The LVRPA states that the need to replace it is a VSC, because this sort of facility must exist in this area. However, this “need” is generated entirely by the LVRPA — if they had not built the current ice centre (in the 1980s), then there would be no particular demand to build a bigger and better one now. It may be that the LBWF would like to have an ice centre somewhere within the borough, but there is no reason that it has to be where it is, or on LVRPA land, or even that it needs be provided by the LVRPA. And the need for the applicant to make money is also not a special circumstance. So, there is no VSC involved here.
- There is no other twin-pad ice centre in London. How is this a VSC? The applicant does not explain the relevance of this fact. Nor does it explain why the only twin-pad ice centre in London has to be on Leyton Marsh, or as in point 2, why it has to be on LVRPA land or provided by the LVRPA.
- Increased usage. In paragraphs 10.43 to 10.56, the LVRPA explains how a larger ice centre will result in more availability to the public and more availability to sports clubs – which will better enable it to fulfil its “duty” (as described earlier) and so this is also a VSC. But a closer reading of paragraph 10.48 shows that this is just a way of saying that the LVRPA will earn more revenue from a larger facility. Such a commercial argument cannot constitute a VSC. It is also the case that removing the ice centre from the site entirely will increase the usage of the site by walkers, outdoor exercise groups, nature lovers, dog trainers, etc, which will in fact be decreased if the new centre is built as it will extend onto currently open green space. The provision of space for those sorts of recreation is also one of the LVRPA’s duties.
- Community benefits. In Section 11, the applicant describes the benefits that would accrue to the community from the new ice centre and claims them as a VSC. Many of these may indeed be genuine benefits, but the suggestion that they constitute a VSC depends crucially upon the premise that there is no other possible location for the new ice centre and that “the community” is largely made up of ice skaters. However, by far the majority of people who go to that part of the marshes are walkers, dog walkers, nature lovers, runners, etc. There is no benefit for them of having such a large building urbanising what is a well-loved green space.
The applicant has consistently ignored this part of the community. In the original “consultation” it ran to decide on which of four potential sites the new ice centre should be built on, they only put up notices of the consultation meetings at the ice centre. When local people found out, they went to the “consultations” and made their views plain, but it was clear the LVRPA had already decided to build the new centre on the current site before the “consultations” even took place.
In June 2019, two members of Save Lea Marshes were invited to a pre-consultation meeting with the LVRPA to see the plans and talk to the landscaper and architect. We were promised that notices for the consultation would be put up all over the park so that the non ice skating users of the marshes would know about it. This didn’t happen until a couple of days before the end of the consultation period, despite several emails to the person responsible for publicity about it. This of course skewed the consultation results as the majority of responses were from ice centre users.
The benefits for the majority of marsh users are site-specific, dependent on the marshes remaining open green space. The benefits for the ice skaters are not site specific – i.e. they need a building to ice skate in, but it doesn’t have to be on Leyton Marsh.
- Health benefits. In Section 12, the applicant describes the health benefits that may result from the new ice centre and claims that they also constitute a VSC. This is analogous to the community benefits described above. They may be genuine benefits, but they could only be considered to be a VSC if there is no other possible location for the new ice centre. And again, while the presence of the ice centre may be beneficial to some people (those who patronise it), it will have the opposite effect on other people (those who would enjoy this area of Leyton Marsh if it were undeveloped). The main benefit would be to the LVRPA, who place more importance on provision to paying customers than to non-paying users of the park.
Other considerations re health benefits:
- enhancing the provision, visibility and accessibility of green space available for walking for leisure outweighs the LVRPA’s argument for paid leisure activities; research shows that it is the former which is patently more beneficial for both mental and physical health of a greater portion of the population than elite sporting venues for athletes and spectators.
- Studies have shown that visits to green spaces improve the self-esteem, mental well-being and social lives of people with disabilities. Improving accessibility to Leyton Marsh from Lea Bridge Road could have a more positive impact on those with disabilities than providing an accessible leisure venue.
- Studies on obesity levels among children show that levels are lower when there is more nearby green space to their residence. Proximity to green spaces is associated with reduced anxiety and mood disorder.
- The applicants have over-estimated the benefits of paid-for indoor leisure activity and underestimated the value of free access to nature in their assessment of the LVIC site and have therefore not proven very special circumstances in terms of location.
Other points to make in argument for denying the application:
- Transport: The Lea Bridge Road is already heavily congested. If the applicant is correct in its assessment that usage will increase with a new ice centre (a contention that is debatable), then it follows that it will bring an increase in traffic on the Lea Bridge Road as that is the only route to the ice centre. Eton Manor is much better served by public transport links and will thereby be more in keeping with current policy of sustainable transport and decrease in car use.
- Pollution: the applicant acknowledges that pollution will increase due to the increase in car use that goes with a larger facility at this site but offers various offsetting solutions. Offsetting has become somewhat discredited as it rarely results in reductions of pollution – at best resulting in the status quo. Increasing the levels of pollution in the area is in contravention of the council’s Air Quality Action Plan. It is also another example of the needs of one part of the community (ice centre users) being seen as more important than another (green space users), although of course pollution will affect everyone who spends time in the area, or even just walks or cycles through it.
- Biodiversity: the applicant’s argument that by building a new ice centre, it will increase the biodiversity is spurious. Essentially what is promised is that in spite of having put little effort into increasing biodiversity on the site for many years, they will make an effort to do so with a new ice centre. In fact, there will be a loss of potential biodiversity due to the nearly doubling in size of the footprint and any increase in effort in the remaining green space will not compensate for the area lost. If they are concerned about increasing the biodiversity of the area, it would be better to build elsewhere, tear down the old centre and put some effort into restoring the site in a way that really increases habitat and biodiversity.