Report by Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter, and James Cracknell
Plans to nearly double the size of Lee Valley Ice Centre have been granted planning permission.
Waltham Forest Council’s planning committee approved the project after the only councillor opposed was ejected from the meeting for arguing with the chairperson.
The new £30million ice centre will include two rinks, a gym, cafe and dance studio, with space for 800 spectators. Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA), which owns and runs the sports venue in Lea Bridge Road, argued the current building was too small and worn out after three decades of use, and would have to close if it could not be rebuilt.
The plan was opposed by environmental groups angry that part of Leyton Marshes would be built on to accommodate it. They argued the need for a modern ice rink was not a good enough reason to encroach on legally-protected open space and that the new centre should instead be built two miles away at Eton Manor, part of the Olympic Park.
While the building itself would be twice as big as the existing centre, a smaller car park means the overall amount of hardstanding needed for the expanded venue would be 22% bigger – equivalent in size to an extra ten tennis courts. In total, 119 people objected, but this was outweighed by 517 people who wrote in support of the plan – including many users of the existing ice centre.
The only committee member who voiced concerns was Conservative group leader Alan Siggers, but he was ejected before he could vote for shouting at the chair of the meeting, held via Microsoft Teams. Becoming agitated at the discussion of the plans, he asked: “Why is it every time I speak somebody has to talk absolute crap over what I say?”
Cllr Siggers had earlier said of the new ice centre: “More attractive though it may be, it’s still a much larger building.”
Committee chair Jenny Gray, a Labour councillor, said the new centre was “not anything to be afraid of” but “something to welcome”. She said: “It does look like a more imaginatively designed building and not such an eyesore as the corrugated iron we have now.”
Regarding the decision to build on protected land, Cllr Gray added: “It’s a pretty scrubby, desperate bit of Metropolitan Open Land, it’s not like it’s a beautiful green meadow.”
Metropolitan Open Land receives the same legal protections as the green belt, meaning there has to be “very special circumstances” to justify building on it. Abigail Woodman, from campaign group Save Lea Marshes, said there was a risk the borough would sacrifice green space for a “white elephant” if the venue didn’t pull in the money LVRPA hopes. She said: “It will look like a massive warehouse, especially from the marshes. Is this what you want for our precious green space?”
The meeting heard from Olympic ice dancer Marika Humphreys-Baranova, who is employed by the centre. She said training currently has to be scheduled before 6am or late at night to avoid clashing with general use, which is “too much for many budding skaters”. Marika told the committee: “Our ice sports are being inhibited due to an undersized ice pad and the scheduling constraints this creates.”
Hackney mum Emily, whose 12-year-old daughter has skated at the centre for six years, said the area’s young figure skaters would “lose their chance at a career” if the centre could not remain in the area. She said: “There is a chronic shortage of sports spaces in [Hackney] and a particular shortage of spaces for sports that attract girls.
“There is a very strong community of skaters that has been there since the rink was founded. We have to hold that together, there are not many places like that in London.”
A spokesperson for Essex Wharf Residents Association said residents on the nearby estate felt they had been “completely overlooked” in the planning process. She told the committee: “There has been a bare minimum of meaningful communication and a mistrust of LVRPA has arisen as a result. It’s people elsewhere who are the priority.”
LVRPA has pledged to fund a ten-year £250,000 community programme to open up access to the new ice centre for groups and schools across Waltham Forest and Hackney. More than half-a-million people are expected to visit each year. Chief executive Shaun Dawson said: “We’re absolutely thrilled Waltham Forest Council has approved our plans.
“We want the new ice xentre to reach all communities including those less likely to participate in physical activity. The new ice centre will offer a range of activities and facilities open to all.”
Councillor Simon Miller, the council’s cabinet member for economic growth, also welcomed the planning approval. He said: “The investment will bring with it extra jobs, as well as creating London’s first Olympic-size twin-pad ice rink.”
Although now approved by the council, because of the size of the development it will still require approval by the mayor of London.