Objection of the week no. 8

This is the final objection in our series of featured objections to the planning application for a new double-pad ice centre on Leyton Marsh. It is by Paul.

There is still time to object! You can use any of the points members of Save Lea Marshes have made in our individual objections – original submissions count for more so please write in your own words, if you have time. Simply email your objection to: dmconsultations@walthamforest.gov.uk

The current ice centre on Leyton Marsh, off Lea Bridge Road.

Application No. 194162: Lee Valley Ice Centre, Lea Bridge Road E10 7QL

I am objecting to this application.

  1. The application acknowledges that the proposed expanded ice centre is inappropriate development on Metropolitan Open Land. The applicants have failed to demonstrate that Very Special Circumstances exist sufficient to overcome the harm to MOL and the application should be refused.
  2. The application makes reference to the Harrow School sports hall appeal decision in support of its arguments. The special circumstances leading to the allowing of the Harrow School appeal cannot be applied to the application being determined here.
  3. Impact on MOL

  4. The location is in a sensitive extended stretch of the Lea Valley MOL extending along the north side of Lea Bridge Road between the Essex Wharf residential development to the west and the industrial area beyond the Flood Relief Channel 400m west. Though the existing ice centre is present as the sole inappropriate structure immediately visible from most viewpoints it is set well back from the road with a large open area in front.
  5. The Waltham Forest Focussed Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land Assessment (Nov 2019) confirms:
    The site does not adjoin the urban edge. Therefore, the redevelopment of the ice centre is likely to be incongruous within the wider open setting of the MOL and would have a significant impact on adjacent MOL, particularly to the north and south where MOL has the potential to become increasingly contained by the redevelopment of the site.
  6. Except for the apartment blocks of Essex Wharf, for whose planning consent the applicants sought Judicial Review on grounds of their impact on the open space of the Park, there are no other buildings the entire stretch of 1170m from the western boundary of North Millfields Park in Hackney to the Flood Relief Channel.
  7. The proposed structure’s footprint is 7029 sqm, twice that of the existing building at 3596sqm. The height is 11m, slightly less than the existing building. However due to the arched profile of the existing building the overall volume will increase by a factor of 2.4 .
  8. The substantially increased bulk of the building will by itself reduce openness from most viewpoints, but this is exacerbated by the positioning. Extending closer to the road and cycle and footpaths to the south and north will make its bulk visually more apparent. From any viewpoint on Lea Bridge Road the building will dominate the space to a much greater degree than the existing building, which sits 70m back from the road. In particular when coming over Lea Bridge and entering the borough from the west the new building will be prominent and highly visible, severely compromising the currently open aspect south of the ice centre. This is clearly apparent in the Massing Test outlines, P65 of Design and Access Statement.
  9. Policy

  10. The application claims incorrectly in the Planning Statement Executive Summary that an expanded ice centre is supported in current local planning policy:
    1.66 The proposals are also supported by the Park Authority’s planning documents, including the Regional Park’s ‘Park Development Framework’ and The Lea Bridge and Leyton Vision which was adopted by the Council in June 2017. These documents are relevant and significant material considerations in favour of the proposals in the ‘planning balance’.
  11. The contents of the Park Development Framework is not itself a material planning consideration in the determination of the Authority’s own applications. The LVR Park Act 1966 requires only that:
    14(2)(a) The local planning authorities shall from time to time include in their development plans or in any proposals for any alterations or additions to their development plans such part of the plan referred to in subsection (1) of this section or of any amendment to that plan as relates to their area.
  12. The current WF Local Plan does not include an expanded ice centre in the proposed location, and it is not included in the draft 2020 Plan.
  13. The Lea Bridge and Leyton Vision is not a planning document, and was not adopted into policy. The final consultation report of June 2017 makes clear:
    The Vision document is not a planning document and has little weight in planning terms. It is a high level vision of how the area could develop and change over the next 10 years. The Council has started work on reviewing the Local Plan and will be consulting on the Direction of Travel later in 2017. The Lea Bridge and Leyton Vision area will be taken forward as part of that review scheduled for adoption by 2020. Any planning applications which come forward earlier would have to be considered on their own merits against current adopted policies and the National Planning Policy Framework.
  14. The new WF Local Plan has not yet been adopted, furthermore the draft includes no specific reference or policy support for an expanded ice centre development at the proposed location.
  15. The applicant claims (PS 5.29) that a 2011 Court Order requires its Park Plan to be treated as if it were part of the Local Plan and given weight in determination of this application. However this Order was obtained in the context of the applicant’s opposition to a 3rd party planning application that would affect the Park. It is clear from S14 of the Park Act that the intention of this ‘very special arrangement’ (PS 5.30) is to protect the Park from negative impacts of development within or nearby, not to facilitate approval of its own planning applications regardless of conflict with MOL/Greenbelt policy.
  16. The Very Special Circumstances Considerations

    The Role of the Park Authority

  17. The application claims that the status and role of the applicant is a consideration contributing to Very Special Circumstances. It is asserted that it has a planning advantage simply by being the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority, implying that this application should be treated more favourably than an identical development in the same location submitted by a different applicant.
  18. The arguments on P33 of the Planning Statement are misleading and wrong in law.
  19. It is not correct that there is any planning precedent for the LVRPA receiving consent for inappropriate development on MOL, or that any planning decision has been influenced by this in determining VSCs. The Planning Statement says:
    9.2 The statutory remit of the Park Authority includes providing directly or indirectly, built facilities for leisure, recreation and sport. This has been previously recognised in the making of planning decisions, for example through the granting of planning permission for the current ice centre (LPA ref. 82/458) within MOL
  20. There is no evidence that the statutory remit of the Authority has explicitly influenced any planning decision in this way, indeed it has never previously sought permission for an inappropriate building on currently designated MOL. The permission for the existing ice centre was granted in 1982. However MOL did not receive the protection offered to Green Belt in planning policy until 1989, and Waltham Forest had not yet designated its areas of MOL at the time of the planning application.
  21. It continues:
    9.3 Building a replacement ice centre is fully consistent with the statutory remit of the Park Authority, its location within MOL does not change this. Indeed, since 95% of the Regional Park is designated as Green Belt and MOL, with the remaining 5% already developed or allocated for development, there is an implicit acknowledgement that some of the activities covered by the Park Act, which would otherwise be deemed ‘inappropriate’ in the Green Belt or MOL, are appropriate if being undertaken by the Park Authority.
  22. Firstly, building a replacement ice centre would be acceptable on MOL as the NPPF permits replacement of existing buildings which would otherwise be inappropriate provided they are no larger and with the same function. The application is not for a replacement, it is for a new building more than twice the size with additional functions (gymnasium). Most of the benefits ascribed to the proposed development would also apply to a more modest replacement ice center compliant with MOL policy.
  23. Secondly, the Lea Valley Regional Park Act 1966 explicitly prevents the Authority from exercising its remit in a way that contravenes planning policy. There is nothing to indicate that the Authority is entitled to special consideration. Sections 12 and 13 of the Act describe the duties and powers of the Authority. 13(9) reads:
    (9) Nothing in this or the last preceding section shall be con strued as excluding or limiting the application of any other enactment prohibiting, regulating or restricting the doing of any particular thing or as authorising the doing of that thing by or under agreements or arrangements made with the Authority except in accordance with the provisions of such other enactment.
  24. Thirdly, the Authority has an extremely broad remit and for over 50 years has exercised this in a way which did not conflict with planning policy. When the Park Act was drafted it was not envisaged that the Authority would choose to develop facilities that directly conflict with prevailing policy.
  25. The Need to Replace the Ice Centre

  26. The need for replacement of the existing facility, even if this were the most economical approach to maintaining it, should not be given any weight in evaluation of Very Special Circumstances since this could be achieved with no increase in the footprint of the building.
  27. A replacement building could be compliant with MOL policy were it not for the additional ice pad, and fitness centre which does not currently exist and is a further inappropriate use.
  28. The applicants have provided a considerable amount of information on evaluation of alternative locations and the Park Authority’s powers. This includes significant omissions and errors:
  29. The application asserts that a new ice centre could only be constructed within the existing Park boundaries. Planning Statement 2.7 says
    The list of activities and provisions that can be accommodated in the Regional Park relate to land within the Regional Park boundary.
    The alternative town centre locations evaluated in PS Appendix 1.9 states for each site
    Furthermore, it is outside of the Lea Valley Regional Park and could not be developed by the Park Authority.
  30. In fact the Park Act provides for the development of facilities on land outside the Park boundaries, so there should be no obstacle either acquiring land or entering into a partnership to develop a new ice center in an alternative appropriate location as part of a major town centre development:
    13(2) The Authority may enter into and carry into effect agree ments or arrangements with any company, body or person for the provision and maintenance by such company, body or person, whether within or outside the park, of any works, facilities, supplies or services which may be desirable for or in connection with the carrying into effect of any of the purposes of this Act and by any such agreement or arrangement may agree to defray or to make contributions towards expenses incurred by the company, body or person thereunder.
    and
    Any land outside the park acquired by the Authority by virtue of this Act for the purposes of section 12 (General duty of Authority) or section 13 (Ancillary powers of Authority) of this Act shall for the purposes of this Act be deemed to be part of the park.
  31. The Qualitative Site Assessment of alternative sites owned by the applicant is inadequate and appears to have been deliberately weighted in favour of the existing ice centre location and against the more suitable location at Eton Manor (Appendix A of the Feasibility Report Phase 3 included in the Planning Statement).
  32. The applicant fails to disclose that it intends to develop a hotel with a gym and cafe on the Eton Manor site, has selected a developer and been involved in pre application discussions with the LPA.
  33. Delivering Community Benefits

  34. Preservation of MOL, particularly when it is accessible public green space and in such a significant location as the application site, has a great community benefit both as a general principle and in terms of the local function of the land and its contribution to well being.
  35. Any benefits claimed for doubling the size of the existing building at the expense of MOL, they will accrue to a very small percentage of the population while the benefits of openness are universally available and accessible and beneficial to the entire community.
  36. This should not be considered a special circumstance and given no weighting since community benefits would exist anyway regardless of whether the ice centre was located elsewhere or was redeveloped as a single pad, or if the site was returned to open green space. The Park itself was created to provide community benefits and any facility developed by the Authority would have benefits for some section of the community, as does open parkland.
  37. The applicant claims economic benefits (PS 11.61) with no supporting explanation or evidence of methodology. The assertion that there will be “An increase in visitor expenditure of £1.5m is expected in the local area each year” is questionable. If the number of visits doubled from the claimed present 279,000, every visit would need to mean a spend of £5.37 somewhere outside the venue; clearly wrong as the majority of visitors come straight to the venue and leave the area immediately afterward.
  38. Delivering Health Benefits

  39. As with community benefits, the application is misleading in focussing on particular health benefits of the proposal, since equal or greater benefits could be derived from development of alternative facilities on the application site which would be appropriate on MOL.
  40. Improving the quality of MOL

  41. Where there is an actual loss of MOL as a result of inappropriate development, this cannot be mitigated by ‘improvements to quality’ or wider landscaping works as described in the Planning Statement.
  42. Claimed biodiversity enhancements in particular should not be accorded any weight since an expectation of such enhancements is embedded in planning policy and applies to any development inter alia the London Plan
    development proposals should: wherever possible, make a positive contribution to the protection, enhancement, creation and management of biodiversity
  43. The landscaping and biodiversity works are clearly incidental to the building itself, could be undertaken without the replacement ice centre, and would presumably be provided as part of any alternative development on the site. It is not a ‘special circumstance’ but a generic mitigation unrelated to the substance of the development.
  44. Harrow School Appeal Decision

  45. The Secretary of State allowed an appeal against the directed refusal of permission for a new sports hall and science building at Harrow School, and in PS Section 8 the application claims that there are “many similarities between the Harrow School case and the proposals for the replacement ice centre.”
  46. There are also very significant differences. In weighing up the Very Special Circumstances case, the factors given greatest weight were educational need, community use and accordance with the Harrow School SPD. None of these apply to the present proposal:
  47. Educational need – this was relevant to the specific remit of the school, which is obliged to provide physical and science education. It also has geographical constraints for reasons of practicality and security. The Park Authority is not required to provide any specific type of sports facility. As a Regional body providing for the whole of London it can construct an ice centre anywhere it chooses and there is no necessity or public benefit in building it in the proposed location. This consideration therefore should have no weight in the case under consideration.
  48. Community use – the improved and enlarged school sports building was to be made available for extended periods for community use in a way that was not formerly possible and which the school is not obliged to do. The Park Authority is a public authority whose purpose is to provide publicly accessible community facilities. If this application were refused, community benefits would continue to be provided by a replacement compliant with MOL policy.
  49. School SPD (accorded substantial weight) – Supplementary Planning Documents augment Local Plans and can be a material consideration in planning decisions. The proposed ice centre is not supported by any adopted planning policy document. The Park Authority’s own Park Plan is not itself capable of being a material planning consideration in support of its own applications.

Paul Charman

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