Objection of the week, no. 6

Objection number six is from Laurie. He explores in detail how the new ice centre will be inappropriate development on Metropolitan Open Land and why a new facility would be better situated elsewhere in the Lee Valley Park:

Dear Sirs,

I wish to object to the planning application for a new ice centre on the Lea Bridge Road and set out my grounds below.

A. The proposed new twin pad Ice centre constitutes Inappropriate Development for the purposes of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

The following matters constitute common ground between Save Lea Marshes (hereafter “SLM”):

  1. Relevant Provisions of National Planning Policy Framework (“NPPF”)

The following provisions of NPPF are engaged by this application:

143. Inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances.

144. When considering any planning application, local planning authorities should ensure that substantial weight is given to any harm to the Green Belt. ‘Very special circumstances’ will not exist unless the potential harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm resulting from the proposal, is clearly outweighed by other considerations.

145. A local planning authority should regard the construction of new buildings as inappropriate in the Green Belt. Exceptions to this are:

d) the replacement of a building, provided the new building is in the same use and not materially larger than the one it replaces; …

As officers are aware, it is settled law that references to “Green Belt” incorporate references to Metropolitan Open Land (“MOL”)

  1. The replacement ice centre is not merely materially larger than the present ice centre but is massively larger.

It is well-established by case law, see in particular Heath and Hampstead society, R (on the application of) v. London Borough of Camden [2007] EWHC 977 (Admin) that the test whether the replacement of a building is  inappropriate by reason of NPPF 145(d) is

primarily an objective one by reference to size”

The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority accept that the proposed new ice centre is inappropriate by virtue of 145(d) and that they therefore rely on the “very special circumstances” objection.

The existing ice centre has a footprint of 3,596 sqm.  The proposed replacement facility has a footprint of 8,417 sqm, an increase of 135%.  Given that case law clearly shows that “size matters” in judging the appropriateness of a replacement development, the massively enlarged footprint of this proposed development is a matter to which the Council should give great weight.

  1. This application will only succeed if the Council concludes that “very special circumstances” apply for the purposes of Paragraph 144 of NPPF.  “Very special circumstances” can only apply if the potential harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm resulting from the proposal, are clearly outweighed by other considerations.

Harm must be assessed by reference to the size of the proposed new development and its impact on the openness of the Green Belt.  It is not sufficient for the Park Authority to argue that the Lea Bridge site is the most appropriate, the starting point must be an assessment of the harm to the Green Belt resulting from the development of this site.

  1. The Park Authority’s case rests on the submission that the current location represents the “most appropriate site”

Appendix 1 to the Park Authority’s planning statement together with the various sub-Appendices go to this question.  There are numerous flaws in the Park Authority’s comparative analysis which are discussed below.

B. The Park Authority’s Analysis is fundamentally flawed because it fails to give due weight to the impact of this proposed development on the Green Belt.

A. The starting point for the Council, in analysing this submission, is to consider the purposes which Green Belt designation seeks to serve as set out in Para 134 of NPPF:

a)  to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;

b)  to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;

c)  to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment.

B. The Park Authority’s application assumes throughout that “all MOL is equal” and by implication, any equivalent ice centre development on any parcel of MOL has equal impact.  The Council should pay particular attention to the Site Evaluation and scoring matrix prepared by the Park Authority and submitted in support of this application.  This wholly lacks any MOL assessment or evaluation of the impact of the proposed development on the openness of the Green Belt.

C. The impact of the development upon the openness of the Green Belt is a central issue which the Park Authority wholly side steps. It is a central issue in the John Lyon case, of which the Park Authority make much in their application, and a key factor in the John Lyon case was that significant views across the Green Belt would not be affected by the development.  John Lyon followed the case of Turner v. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Anor [2016] EWCA Civ 466 which provides comprehensive guidance on the correct approach to openness.

D. The new proposed Ice Centre would create an urban frontage (i.e. the proposed extended building + associated car parking) extending from close to the existing Essex Wharf development to the former aqueduct.   This is shown clearly in Figure 2 of the Park Authority’s Planning Statement in which the footprint of the proposed new development is shown by the red line:

It should be noted that, to the east of the aqueduct, the openness has already been very significantly compromised by the Park Authority’s riding centre which has been enlarged by the Authority on 13 separate occasions.

E. Figure 2 provides a very helpful basis for a before and after comparison.  The present ice centre, although unsightly, occupies only a limited part of the road frontage and the continuity of the Park – the green chain of open spaces – is preserved.  That will be eliminated if the application is allowed.  Effectively the new proposed Ice Centre would merge the built-up areas of Hackney (+ Essex Wharf) to the west, and Walthamstow to the east, – something which Green Belt designation is expressly designed to prevent.

F. In contrast with the Park Authority’s analysis, which contains no MOL Assessment, Waltham Forest Council has carried out an assessment as part of the Regulation 18 consultation process for the new emerging local plan.  In relation to the Ice Centre site (referred to as MOL 3) the Council’s assessment states

“This MOL represents an important strategic open space between the built up areas to the west (Hackney) and the east (Walthamstow).  The majority of the parcel is clearly distinguishable from the built up area.” (Emphasis added)

In answer to the question “Does the MOL form part of a green chain or link in the network of green infrastructure?” the assessment notes

“The whole parcel falls within the Lee Valley Regional Park and includes the Lee Valley Pathway and several other public rights of way.  The whole parcel lies within the River Lea and Tributaries archaeological primary zone.  The Lee Valley ice Centre currently detracts from the continuity of the “green chain” along the Lea Valley both visually and in terms of ecological connectivity”

It is very important to contrast this assessment with the assessment of one of the alternative sites – MOL 6 – adjacent to the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis site (hereafter “the Eton Manor Site”) which was rejected by the Park Authority.

In relation to MOL 6 the Assessment states that individually,

Parcel MOL6 is not a large enough area of open land to be considered of regional importance and therefore its continued designation as MOL would not be appropriate and further [although] the whole parcel lies within the Lee Valley Regional Park… in isolation the parcel would not be considered MOL.”

MOL 6 in other words is an isolated pocket of land which does not separate urban districts in the same way and is not part of the connected green chain of open spaces which the designation of the Regional Park was specifically designed to preserve.

I submit that the Council is obliged to give weight to its own MOL Assessment which is part of the evidence gathering process for its own emerging replacement Local Plan.

G. In seeking to sidestep this issue the Park Authority’s Planning Statement argues at  Para 1.48  of Appendix 1

“To put the quantity of development into context, the proposed development will equate to just 0.0001828% of Lee Valley Regional Park’s Green Belt or MOL (which forms 95% of the Park), based on a proposed building footprint of 7,029 sqm. This is an extremely low figure in the context of the LVRPA MOL and Green Belt designation and does not begin consider the entire MOL and green belt designations across London and the surrounding area. Therefore, the existing LVIC site would have a minimal impact on the purpose and function of the MOL of the Lee Valley Regional Park, London and the surrounding area.”

This amounts to saying that it is acceptable to build on this section of Green Belt (or in this case the Regional Park) because other sections of the Green Belt are unaffected!   It is an argument which could be applied by analogy to any development of Green Belt – it doesn’t matter if we destroy the openness of this bit of the Green Belt because there is plenty more Green Belt to go round. 

This argument goes diametrically against the structure of planning guidance which states that the Green Belt must be protected by controlling developments which inter alia, materially increase the built footprint of what is already there.  If the Park Authority’s argument were accepted, it would render the whole of Paragraph 145 a nullity.  The argument is particularly insidious coming from the Park Authority which is entrusted by Act of Parliament with the primary duty to protect the Lee Valley Park as a place for the occupation of leisure.

H. It should be noted that when the Park Authority consulted upon the present site selection, I, together with others, urged the Park Authority, in constructing its scoring matrix, to give weight to the character of alternative sites under consideration and the environmental impact upon the Park.  This the Park Authority declined to do.  Its scoring matrix gives no weight whatsoever to the impact of the proposed development on the openness and connectedness of the Regional Park.

C. The Council should not rely upon the Park Authority’s Scoring Matrix but should make its own assessment of alternative sites in deciding whether the very special circumstances exception applies to the proposed development on this site.

The Park Authority’s case necessarily rests on its scoring matrix to show that Lea Bridge is the most appropriate site for the Ice Centre.  In its original matrix, Lea Bridge was considered against three other sites, namely land on the site of the Park Authority’s Waterworks Centre and car park (“the Waterworks Site”), land adjacent to the Park Authority’s Hockey and Tennis Centre , (the “Eton Manor Site”), and land at Picketts Lock in Enfield .

As is clear from submitted documents, the result of the original scoring matrix was very close.  The Lea Bridge Site was scored at 74.6%, the Waterworks Site at 72.6% and the Eton Manor Site at 70%.  Picketts Lock was scored at 65.1%. 

For the present application, the Park Authority and their consultants have re-marked those sites and also introduced further comparators including the Thames Water Depot and Broxbourne.

The new grading purports to demonstrate a much wider gap between Leabridge and the original comparator sites.  Lea Bridge is now scored at 77.7%. Eton Manor at 62.8% and the Waterworks at 60.8%.

Since it is the nub of the Park Authority’s “very special circumstances” case that alternative sites are less appropriate, the Council is bound to look through the Park Authority’s assessments, and conduct its own analysis of alternative prospective sites before deciding whether the very special circumstances exception applies.  The regrading is clearly an exercise in advocacy for the outcome sought by the Authority and cannot be safely relied upon.

In Section D of this submission, I will point out that in relation to one of the comparator sites, Eton Manor, the Park Authority’s Planning Statement appears to be actively misleading.   Before dealing with that point, I make the following observations on the scoring matrix.

  1. As previously noted, the Lea Bridge site was originally marked only marginally ahead of alternative venues

The Lea Bridge site was originally scored at 74.6%, the Waterworks Site at 72.6% and the Eton Manor Site at 70%.  Given that the Authority is now being invited to apply very special circumstances to allow development on a site which its own assessment rates as being of “strategic importance”, it should have regard to this close margin.

  1. The Park Authority has failed to keep alternative options under review as its plans for the Ice centre have developed

At an early stage the Park Authority realised that the plans which informed its scoring matrix could not be delivered within budget.  The Park Authority approved in April 2019 a scaling down of the Ice Centre footprint from 10,450 sqm to 8,300 sqm and a large reduction in associated car parking.  Since constraints upon site size and/or car parking were said to be determining factors against the selection of either the Waterworks Site or the Eton Manor Site the Park Authority was invited to reconsider its site selection in the light of the reduced footprint.  This the Park Authority declined to do. 

  1. As already indicated, the scoring matrix contained no weighting for an MOL Assessment

As already noted, having regard to the purposes of Green Belt protection, as outlined in Para 134 of NPPF, there should have been a comparative MOL assessment and this should have been given a high weighting.

  1. The weighting fails properly to reflect traffic and congestion issues

It is of the essence of the current application that the “elite” ice pad will be a sporting venue which will inevitably attract peak traffic flows when events are staged – hence the requirement for a large, albeit reduced, car park.  Although the Planning Statement seeks to minimise this issue, it is clear that many of these events will be staged in the evening when traffic generated by the venue will compete with peak rush hour flows. 

Whilst not wishing to endorse undue car use, it should be noted that the Eton Manor Site has the merit of being adjacent to high capacity 106(M) and A12 motorways. 

By contrast, all traffic to the Lea Bridge site must approach by Leabridge Road leading to inevitable severe congestion and pollution.  In disregarding this matter in the scoring matrix, the Park Authority possibly relegated this consideration as an external cost.  However Para 144 NPPF clearly requires “any other harm resulting from the proposal” to be taken into account in deciding whether “very special circumstances” apply. This is, therefore, highly relevant to the planning assessment.

  1. The Scoring Matrix mis-states the  relative merits of the Lea Bridge site and the Eton Manor Site in terms of public transport

The original scoring matrix (applied when Park Authority members approved this site) placed emphasis on the availability of the newly reopened Lea Bridge Station, at 9 minutes walking distance.  The Park Authority’s scoring matrix gave no weight to the fact that the train service at Lea Bridge has 15 minute intervals and contained impossible assumptions for travel times including a 9 assumed minute journey time from the Ice Centre to Tottenham Hale.  Eton Mills was marked down disregarding the fact that there is a 10 minute walk to Leyton Station on the Central Line with two minute service intervals. 

If Eton Manor were selected, there is the obvious likelihood that a loop bus service to Stratford (with excellent onward connections) could be developed serving the expanding Chobham Manor housing development and the Hockey and Tennis Centre as well as the Ice Centre. 

  1. The Scoring Matrix disregards the obvious synergies between the Eton Manor Site and the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre and the Lee Valley Velodrome

There are obvious sporting and logistical synergies arising if the Ice Centre is placed adjacent to the Hockey and Tennis Centre.  The most significant is the use of car parking.   The Hockey and Tennis Centre is served by a very large car park which is largely empty apart from major sporting events which are quite infrequent. 

A search on the “Events” tab for the Authority’s Hockey and Tennis Centre https://www.visitleevalley.org.uk/en/content/cms/london2012/lee-valley-hockey-tennis/events/ lists international hockey events on the following dates all at 2.00 p.m.

  • 2nd May
  • 3rd May
  • 16th May
  • 17th May
  • 24th May
  • 25th May
  • 13th June
  • 14th June

There are other club events (not searchable on the Park Authority’s website) but it appears clear that there are only eight events within the next three months likely to place any significant demand on the Authority’s car parking facilities at Eton Manor

It appears obvious that with a little planning it should be possible to minimise the occasions when there are conflicts between major Ice Centre events and major Hockey Centre events, saving on car parking space, with obvious saving of financial and ecological resources.   There are likely to be other advantages, over time, in linking the Ice Centre, the Hockey and Tennis Centre, and the Lee Valley Velodrome as one sporting campus.

  1. The Scoring Matrix mis-states ground and landscape restraints

The scoring matrix scores the Lea Bridge Site higher than the Eton Manor Site implying that there are fewer ground and landscape restraints at Lea Bridge.  That scoring was originally done before any assessment of the constraints affecting Lea Bridge.  It has since emerged that the Lea Bridge Site involves the felling of mature trees (consistently understated by the Park Authority) and the disturbance of habitat necessitating the creation of what the Park Authority has disparagingly described as “hedgehog hotels” which are likely in practice to be of very doubtful efficacy

  1. The Scoring Matrix contains a confirmation bias in favour of the current site

The scoring matrix inevitably contains systematic confirmation bias in favour of the outcome sought by the Park Authority.  For example:

a) Weightings in the scoring matrix for “current catchment” (given higher weight than “future catchment”) and expressions of support inevitably favour the status quo and should be given no weight in considering “very special circumstances”.

b) “Community stakeholder” support and “Sporting stakeholder support” inevitably reflect the fact that the Park Authority has solicited such support

c) “Impact on business plan” is an essentially circular scoring criterion which reflects that the Authority is invested in the outcome it seeks and should have no place in this “very special circumstances” evaluation.

  1. The Park Authority has sought to sell both the Waterworks Site and the Eton Manor Site and this calls into question the objectivity of its scoring matrix.

This matter goes to the heart of the fairness and objectivity of the Park Authority’s case that “very special circumstances” should be applied to give consent to development at Lea Bridge.

The Waterworks Site

The Council will be aware that the Park Authority approached the Waltham Forest Regeneration Team in early 2016 (before Park Authority members had approved the selection of the Lea Bridge Site) with a view to zoning the Waterworks Site for housing, referred to as “enabling development” to finance the Ice Centre.  This proposal at one stage appeared to be supported by Waltham Forest in its so-called “Eastside Vision” planning consultation.

As a result of strong public reaction, that aspect of Eastside Vision is no longer being advocated by the Council and the Park Authority states that it no longer requires enabling development to finance the Ice Centre as it is able to borrow the necessary funds at current very low rates of interest.  Nevertheless, the Park Authority continues to seek the opportunity to sell off the Waterworks Site as development land and the Council will be aware that the Park Authority has offered up this site in response to the Council’s current Call for Sites.

The Eton Manor Site

The Park Authority is negotiating to sell off the Eton Manor Site for a hotel development on a long lease which, it has stated, will raise both capital and revenue for the Authority. It is our understanding that a planning application has not as yet been submitted to the London Legacy Development Corporation.  See further section D of this objection.

The issue this raises is as follows.  The Park Authority has a clear and documented strategy, its “Corporate Land and Property Strategy”, of financing its activities (and reducing its financial levy) in part through sales of land deemed no longer required for Park purposes.  Both the alternative sites in Waltham Forest evaluated by the Park for comparative purposes are earmarked for sale in due course.

The Park Authority will no doubt argue that both the Waterworks Site and the Eton Manor Site were rejected after a rigorous evaluation, and that only after that exercise was completed were alternatives for those sites considered and disposal decided upon (notwithstanding that the known chronology of discussions about the Waterworks Site puts that in doubt).  In dealing with the current “very special circumstances” application, the Council as Planning Authority must regard those submissions with proper scepticism.  Not to put too fine a point on it, the merits of the alternative sites for the Ice Centre may have been understated because the Park Authority wishes to sell off those sites.

D. Objections to the Eton Manor site mentioned in the Park Authority’s Planning Statement may be actively misleading.

The Park Authority has since 2016 been actively pursuing plans to sell off land at the Eton Manor site on a long lease for a Hotel Development.

The following is a verbatim quote from the Authority working paper A/4274/19 approved at a meeting of the full Park Authority on 17th October 2019.  This can be accessed at

https://www.leevalleypark.org.uk/en/content/cms/corporate/about-us/meeting-documents/authority-meetings/

Following a detailed marketing exercise for a leisure development on the Eton Manor site, a hotel development proposal was chosen in March as the preferred option.  The proposed development which will complement Lee Valley Hockey & Tennis Centre and support activities and business in the north of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park comprises a 98 bed hotel, a significant fitness gym (for hotel guests and Lee Valley Hockey & Tennis Centre and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park visitors) and a food and beverage outlet.

The Authority will gain financially through a capital sum and revenue stream as part of a long term lease arrangement.

It is apparent that this proposed hotel development would occupy the area previously earmarked for playing pitches making Appendix 1.5 to the Park Authority’s Planning Statement wholly irrelevant.

Appendix 1 to the Park Authority’s Planning Statement comprises a discussion of alternative sites under the heading “The most appropriate site”.  It is stated there as follows:

1.31. The 2016 assessment considered Eton Manor to be less favourable than the current ice centre site to be the site of the replacement ice centre. In the intervening period, proposals for the Eton Manor site have advanced. The adopted Local Plan is currently being reviewed and the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) revised Local Plan submission draft includes modifications that have removed the reference to five-a-side football pitches at paragraph

11.3. The submission draft includes a new reference which states:

“The Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre at Eton Manor and the Lee Valley Velo Park are world class sports facilities. Originally developed for the London 2012 Olympic Games and subsequently transformed they are both important national leisure and sporting venues hosting local, national and international events and support the Legacy Corporation’s aspiration to deliver a sporting legacy for local communities. The two venues are owned by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority and are managed through a leisure trust. The Legacy Corporation continues to work closely with and support the Park Authority as it seeks to improve and grow the offer associated with the venues and thereby ensure their long term sustainability. This includes the further development of the land and facilities associated with the Hockey and Tennis Centre at Eton Manor which can complement the rest of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.” (Our emphasis).

1.32. This modification reflects the resounding success of the International Hockey major events programme. The site is now safeguarded for development of facilities associated with the Hockey and Tennis Centre. A new ice centre would take space and create a footfall clash that would compromise the international events programme that England Hockey hold at the venue. The success of the International Hockey events programme means that the site is seen as the UK’s national hockey centre for major international events and now has a worldwide reputation as this. If the ice centre were to take-up the space and capacity on site, the ability to host international events would be compromised and, simply, the events will not come to London. As such the venue’s world level status would be lost.

1.33. Therefore, the site is no longer available to be considered as an alternative site for the replacement ice centre.

1.34. In short, since 2016 the Park Authority and England Hockey are certain that Eton Manor is no longer available (or suitable) to accommodate the replacement ice centre.

These paragraphs appear to be at the very least economical with the truth in that:

  • “The further development of the land and facilities associated with the Hockey and Tennis Centre at Eton Manor” appears to refer to the hotel facility refer to above.   The use of the word “associated” seems highly misleading.
  • Similarly the reference to the fact that the site is now safeguarded for development of facilities associated with the Hockey and Tennis Centre implies that the Hockey and Tennis Centre is to be in some why developed or enlarged.  There are in fact no such plans.
  • The submission strongly implies that the land adjacent to the Hockey and Tennis centre has to be safeguarded to avoid the international status of the Hockey Centre being compromised.  There is no evidence to support that.  It is interesting to note that the Park Authority Minutes 18th October 2018 state:

Eton Manor – Hockey & Tennis Centre are under used, hoping to activate the site and add value to the Olympic Park, such as adding visitor accommodation. We are currently starting a soft marketing campaign to see what market interest there is.

Far from supporting the proposition that the land is needed to support the Hockey and Tennis Centre the minutes evidence that the Park Authority has been scrabbling around to find some alternative use for this land.

  • The previous discussion in this objection about future events show that the alleged footfall clash alleged does not in fact exist.

I submit that the reality is that the Park Authority has no plans for the Eton Manor site which can be meaningfully said to be associated with the Hockey and Tennis Centre.  The reality is that the Authority has been looking for the most profitable use of spare land and has come up with the hotel proposal.  That proposal has not yet been the subject of any public consultation nor has it gone to planning.  The land is not therefore committed to any alternative use and could be used for an Ice Centre.

Furthermore, an elite Ice Centre adjacent to the Olympic Park would clearly be an excellent sporting legacy.

Because the Park Authority’s summary of the position concerning Eton Manor is so misleading, the Council should give no weight to it in deciding what is “the most appropriate site” and whether “very special circumstances apply”.   The Council will need to conduct its own investigation and interrogate the Park Authority about its plans for the Eton Manor Site.

E. The Council is commended to take a consistent approach with its determination of the application for two academy schools in the Thames Water Site.

The Council took a correct and principled approach to this application which was considered at the Council’s Planning Committee on 25th March 2019.  Paragraph 1 of the minutes of the Committee’s decision state as follows:

The proposed development would, by reason of its use represent inappropriate development in Metropolitan Open Land and by reason of its siting, height, excessive foot print, scale, bulk, massing and location, would not protect and enhance the existing green infrastructure, access to the open space complement and improve the quality of the open space, thereby causing substantial harm to its openness.

It is submitted that the siting, height, footprint, scale, bulk, massing and location of the proposed Ice Centre would all have a greater detrimental effect on the quality and openness of open space.

Applying the balancing exercise required by Paragraph 144 of NPPF, a consistent approach would point clearly to the conclusion that “very special circumstances” have not been made out.

In Conclusion

It is clear that a very unusual assessment is required in this case.

The Park Authority, seeks a very major expansion of a built development on MOL of great strategic importance and asks the Council to invoke “very special circumstances” to permit a development which is otherwise plainly inappropriate.  It is the essence of the Park Authority’s case that alternative sites have been evaluated and found to be unsuitable.  This case has not been made out and that the Council is bound to conduct its own evaluation.  Although the Eton Manor Site would also be on MOL; having regard to its lesser strategic significance, and other factors, it would actually make a better site for the Ice Centre and that therefore “very special circumstances” do not favour the Lea Bridge Site.

Finally, I would draw attention to what is stated in the Council’s own assessment of MOL 3:

The Lee Valley ice Centre currently detracts from the continuity of the “green chain” along the Lea Valley both visually and in terms of ecological connectivity”

If an alternative site is selected, MOL3, a site of strategic importance, can be restored as part of the “green chain” which the designation of the Lee Valley Regional Park was intended to achieve.

Yours sincerely

Laurie Elks

This entry was posted in Ice Centre and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.