It has recently been revealed that Waltham Forest Council has made the decision to give £1m towards the new Lee Valley Ice Centre.
The New Lee Valley Ice Centre: Financial Support agreement (published by Waltham Forest Council Cabinet on 4th May) is as follows::
“The Council to provide a cumulative total of £1m grant over 5 phased payments to Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA) to assist with the overall LVRPA investment of up to £40m for the new ice rink in return for the LVRPA to provide additional benefits to Waltham Forest Residents.” (4.1)
The estimated cost of the new ice centre complex, which includes an 800 spectator venue, a cafe, gym and large car park was previously quoted as £30m and it has now risen to a possible £40m.
The Authority intend to borrow this £30-40m to build this very large facility (95% bigger than the current one), subject to approval by the Secretary of State.
The justification for using money from Waltham Forest taxpayers to finance the ice centre complex was the funding difficulty the LVRPA are facing, especially during construction:
” The LVRPA are struggling to cover the peak debt during the construction phase, meaning the project may not go ahead.” (5.1)
For this money, which will be on top of the precept that the London boroughs, including Waltham Forest Council, pay towards the Lee Valley Regional Park, the LBWF have been promised:
- Targeted ice centre sessions for ‘under represented groups’
- Targeted crime prevention and well-being programmes
- Community tickets for events
- Biodiversity education programme (4.1)
The commitment to a biodiversity education programme may raise many an eyebrow! The chair of the Waltham Forest Planning Committee who gave permission for the application described the Leyton Marsh site as a ‘desperately scrubby bit of Metropolitan Open Land’ seemingly unaware that this scrub was an important habitat. Any neglect of the area around the ice centre was due to the applicant, the LVRPA, failing to properly care for the land in the first place.
Preparation works began last year, just days after planning permission was obtained, and the local community witnessed, with dismay, as known hedgehog habitat was cleared with strimmers and many trees were felled on the development site. Many of the workers had come straight from felling trees on the HS2 route and, just as happened there, trees were placed straight into wood-chipping machines.
As a local resident recently suggested, maybe the Waltham Forest Planning Committee should themselves receive biodiversity training as in approving the application, they deliberately ignored the plight of hedgehogs, a Red List species, very close to extinction in East London.
Despite all these habitat clearance works hastily taking place, the estimated £30m -£40m required funding for the double-size facility has not been secured.
Sports England and the London Marathon Trust, who were approached for funding, will not be investing in the new facility.
Another issue is the provision of ice skating during construction. The LVRPA completed a feasibility study into building a temporary ice rink whilst the new building is constructed. On page 32 of their most recent Authority report they state: ’The only adjoining site is Leyton Marsh and Authority officers immediately ruled this out as it is not believed to be a viable or appropriate option to consider.’
The construction of a temporary ice centre adjacent to the new one was ruled out due to ‘costs, time and uncertainty’ since the site is Metropolitan Open Land and ‘it is very likely the decision would be called in and challenged’.
With their consistent and determined opposition, the community have played their part in preventing a repeat of the Olympics fiasco; a disastrous construction of a temporary facility on Leyton Marsh. We are obviously very relieved a large temporary ice centre will not be built on the footprint of the temporary basketball training facility!
The LVRPA also considered the current ice centre car park for a temporary facility but mention the impact on the Oxbow Island and the residents of Essex Wharf and say ‘any application would probably lead to objections and potential challenge from local residents and interested groups’. Quite right.
So the ice centre will be now built in one go rather than in stages. It was clear at the Authority meeting we attended that this was a very unwelcome and unexpected development for the local ice skating coaches who have been unable to train for a long period already.
We warned about the problem of providing continuity of ice skating at the current site, advising that the new facility should instead be sited at Eton Manor, adjacent to the Hockey and Tennis Centre, on the Olympic Park. If the new ice centre had been built there, the current ice centre could have kept running whilst the new one was under construction. As they chose instead to site the new ice centre complex on Leyton Marsh, this cannot be done, and further revenue will be lost during this period unnecessarily. Better public transport connections at Eton Manor, via Stratford, would have meant a much better chance of achieving the ambition to create a national ice skating centre there.
It has now been confirmed, as we suspected, that the Eton Manor site was rejected for the ice centre, not because it was unsuitable, but because plans were already advanced for a hotel on the site:
We remain concerned that the venue, in the current climate, is too ambitious and costly, and could easily become a white elephant. Green space in the park could be ‘disposed of’ to fund repayment of large loans taken out to fund the venue.
This is what the LVRPA originally intended to do, when it was planning to sell off part of the Waterworks site, for housing. It was only through determined campaigning and the threat of legal action that we were able to prevent this. Further development is now planned for the Waterworks Centre and car park; we wonder how the Authority will fund such development, in light of the huge cost of the ice centre project.
After a sustained period unsuccessfully opposing a new double-pad ice centre complex on Leyton Marsh, we believe our role is now to scrutinise the plans as best we can. We appreciate that the LVRPA have been meeting with us on a regular basis to update us on the works, and listening to the input of local wildlife experts on the issues of environmental mitigation. We will be exploring the issue of on-site Biodiversity Offsetting and proposed new habitat creation in a future post.