Economics of The Riding Centre   
Lea Marshes
See LVRPA accounts for riding centreSee 13 extra livery stables
The Riding Centre has been in existence since 1971. It has been offering livery, basically bed and breakfast for a horse, since 1989 and perhaps longer, for most of that time without the required planning permission. According to LVRPA's web site it had 45 horses and ponies in 2009 but planning permission was granted for a further 19 stables (presumably another 19 horses?) in August 2009 (application 2009/0244). Then in 2013 LVRPA applied to build a further 13 stables, this time solely for livery.

The centre offers lots of different types of lessons and has a complex grid of opening hours, but in practice horses are rarely seen on the marshes. This is probably because of the risk of conflict with dogs. The economics of the riding centre seem to be based on the idea that the generation of income of any kind is worthwhile, so long as LVRPA is preserved. North East London is well served for riding centres since there are several in Epping Forest. In 2013 it was said to "employ" the equivalent of 16 people with plans to increase this to 19 when the extra 13 stables were built.

Full livery for a year cost £8,424 in 2009 so if the owners of the 64 horses paid this much LVRPA would raise £539,136. In practice the total is considerably less. When LVRPA got its 2009 planning permission it was told that only a third of the stables could be used for livery.

Since the centre has to be fenced off to avoid conflict with dogs, the community (or the 99.9% of the community who either can not afford horse riding or who have no interest in it) have lost the use of a very large chunk of land, at least 25 acres (about 10 hectares). That's equivalent to a very large park. Ordinarily if a large bit of communal land was privatised like this, the community would expect some kind of recompense (a financial sum, for example). The value of a parcel of land like this in North East London is considerable. Take the nearby Essex Wharf, a comparatively small area. Developers want to put 144 houses on this site. Since they are likely to sell for at least £200k that gives a potential total value of around £30m (minus the cost of actually building the flats). With planning permission Essex Wharf would have to be worth at least £10m. Since the park has already built homes (there are three) on the riding centre, and the land is at least three times the size of Essex Wharf, the riding centre land must be worth considerably more.

The annual interest charge (the amount a private operator would have to pay for the land) could not be less than £500,000 and would probably be a great deal more.

LVRPA officers themselves calculated that a chunk of Porter's Field (about 3.4 acres) was worth £250/day when the Olympics Development Authority needed to build basketball courts on this very similar type of land (in fact what was originally called Porter's Field includes much of the riding centre). The riding centre is about six times bigger than the area used for the basketball courts, so should command a rent of about £1.5k/day (though no-one would ever be able to rent land from a commercial operator in this part of London at so low a rate). Multiply £1.5k by 365 and you get £547,500, more than the highest figure LVRPA could possibly raise from livery. And that's without taking into account, the cost of staffing, the buildings, heating, lighting, hay, etc. etc.

Any private sector operator seeking to compete with LVRPA by offering stabling in north east London would have to pay this sort of rent for the ground. Even if they owned the land themselves they would have to include the value of the asset in their accounts. This means LVRPA is massively, and unfairly, subsidising the riding centre. It does this simply because it is a convenient way to earn ready cash. The users of Lea Marsh pay the cost in lost land, the authority picks up a few crumbs in the form of a pitiful amount of revenue and a lot of approval from the horsey folk. LVRPA is, after all, a Conservative run authority and helping the rich and privileged this is clearly important to it.

It is also extremely surprising that the paddock is not part of the SSSI. There seems to be no sense in this. What makes one side of the Sustrans different to the other side? Has the LVRPA bent over backwards to keep the riding centre out of the SSSI?