Lea Marshes

Ice rink feasibility study    
LVRPA is conducting a review of the ice centre in Lea Bridge Road (LVRPA calls it a feasibility study).

Apparently, to match up to the demands of the ice hockey world, it needs to have a much larger ice pad (60 metre x 30m instead of 56m x 26m) and five times the seating capacity (3,500 instead of 700) (see item 42 E/203/12).

LVRPA's executive committee decided on April 19, 2012, (see item 299) that the study should be conducted in early 2013. Shaun Dawson (LVRPA chief executive) told the LVRPA's Lower Lea Valley Committee that the process would be concluded by the end of March, 2013. £50,000 has been set aside to fund this exercise.

According to a minute of the April 2012 executive (see item 299), the feasibility study, would: "include engagement with appropriate user groups including the Marshes User Forum."

Since the user forum has talked of nothing but what to do with sme of the small amount of money given by the Olympic Development Authority in compensation for the temporary basketball court that blighted Porters Field in 2012, it is hard to see how it could possibly be involved.

The ice centre was opened in January 1984 (29 years ago) by Torvill and Dean (at the time famous skaters). It has 700 seats for spectators and a 56 metre by 26 metre rink. In 2006, the National Ice Skating Association gave it the status of Regional Centre for Excellence for London and the South of England.

Its main function (most of the opening hours are devoted to this use) is ice dance, hockey and training sessions for top skaters. It's open (according to item 7 of E/203/12) from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. the following day, or to put it another way 19 hours a day (see Capacity E/203/12). OK the maths don't add up but you don't have to be able to tell the time to work for LVRPA.

In February 2012 just 4,000 attended public skating sessions at the ice rink. That works out at about eight an hour.

But, as with all LVRPA figures, the number of visitors claimed has to be treated with caution. The same LVRPA report (E/203/12 item 9) also says 311,962 people visited in 2010/11. If true that means about 25,000 visitors each month so that four out of five would be coming for private rather than public sessions, making it hard to describe the ice centre as a public facility at all. Viewed in that way it looks like a private club with a small number of sessions when the general public is allowed in. LVRPA is well aware that its primary function is to serve levy payers, in other words the general public (see item 39 E/203/12).

Whilst the car park is rarely, if ever, full, (suggesting the place is not crowded even at peak use times) there is apparently a queue of ice hockey teams wanting to use the facility. LVRPA has also scored when it comes to film and tv crews using the centre. ITV's Dancing on Ice has made the rink a training venue.

Even though the ice rink is a massive loss maker, LVRPA is unlikely to close it much before 2015. That's because Romford Ice Rink is being refurbished, creating a 56x26 metre ice pad with 500 seats. The new rink is expected to be complete in about 2015 and until that time Romford is steering its users to Lea Bridge Road.

Vivien Blacker, LVRPA's corporate director for parklands and venues, has also said that there's no capital available to finance the scheme until at least 2014 (see item 39 E/203/12).

In any case, the building may be ugly, but it's got a lot going for it as an ice rink, so far as skating enthusiasts are concerned. It scored a QUEST quality accredication of 81% in 2011/12 putting it in the top 10% of QUEST accredited venues (QUEST is a health and safety consultant run by two organisations: Right Directions and Leisure-net Solutions).

A lot of money has been invested in keeping the ice rink up to scratch and in 2003 it was assessed to have at least another 25 years life left in it.

The chillers were replaced at a cost of £400k in 2006 and a further £300k has been invested in:--
** improving access,
**replacing flooring,
**improving changing rooms and toilets,
** a new secoreboard.
**ice resurfacing machine,
**flooring, sliding doors, decoration and
**external landscaping.

Yet another £200k is ear marked to be spent on replacing the rink barrier some time before 2020.

Even so visiting ice hockey teams have been known to complain about the poor standard of the changing facilities and it has to be recognised that it is an extraordinarily ugly building from the outside and even inside the place looks like a dump. See customer satisfaction (item 21 E/203/12)

One option LVRPA is looking at is keeping the existing building and creating a second ice rink (see item 28 E/203/12). It believes it can do this, even though the area is Metropolitan Open Land which should never be built on, because the Park Development Framework raised this possiblity yet the local council's planning department said nothing, (see item 30 E/203/12).. If the PDF did in fact raise this possibility it was certainly not clear on the documentation seen by the writer of this article.

The two pad (two buildings?) idea is based on experience at Sheffield where they have one rink for the general public and another for elite skaters.(see item 38 Hilary Selby's evidence E/203/12).

LVRPA's real problem with the ice rink is the location. It is poorly served by public transport and even if the proposed Lea Bridge Station re-opening goes ahead, trains are likely to be infrequent and of little use to people living in the outer sections of the regional park's catchment area (all of London, Hertfordshire and Essex). The ice rink has a car park with places for 500 vehicles but getting there by road is a nightmare since the area is heavily congested most of the day.

LVRPA has the power to acquire land but it is not clear if it could find a more appropriate site than land it already owns or controls.

There is little doubt that the vast majority of lea marsh users are enthusiastic about the idea of creating a new green corridor by the removal of the ice rink and the possible opening up of the Clancy Docwra site on the other side of Lea Bridge Road.

But this is not an excitement shared by Shaun Dawson, LVRPA chief executive, who revealed at LVRPA's Lower Lea Valley Committee on February 7, 2013, that he would consider replacing the ice rink with another leisure facility, if it was demolished.

LVRPA is clearly hoping for outside financial support (possibly from a sporting body with skating interests such as the Curling Foundation and the Sports Council) (see item 40 E/203/12) but knows perfectly well that much of the bill (rebuilding could possibly could cost more than £13m see item 45(b) E/203/12).) will have to be paid from its own coffers. Quite clearly a great deal of the point of this feasibility exercise is to track down any possible outside funding.

Given that the centre has such a long potential life span and so much has been spent on it in recent years, this may be the real point of the exercise. Perhaps LVRPA was hoping that there would be a huge amount of finance available after a successful and popular Olympics. In reality the Olympics turned out to be a very expensive damp squib and the legacy has often proved to be cuts in expenditure.

See LVRPA report E/203/12 (Review of the Lee Valley Ice Centre).