Protestors make a point over Lea Valley Ice Centre expansion plans

An environmental group protested with ghostly hedgehogs on Halloween to object to the planned expansion of the Lee Valley Ice Centre.

Waltham Forest Council’s planning committee gave the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA) permission to almost double the size of the centre on October 6.

Save Lea Marshes insist the plans will “destroy an important wildlife corridor” for animals like hedgehogs, which are currently in danger of being wiped out in the UK.

It is calling on Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to intervene and force the decision to be considered again.

The LVRPA, which owns both the centre and the surrounding land, insist rebuilding is necessary because the current centre is worn out and would have to close if not rebuilt.

A Save Lea Marshes spokesperson said the protest had been a success “despite the horrendous weather” and thanked all those involved. 

They added: “Ghost hedgehogs were worn, carried and laid to represent this endangered species losing known habitat on Leyton Marsh to a development which could easily be built on the Olympic Park.

“We know that the Greater London Authority considered the plans not to be compliant with the London Plan.

“We hope the Mayor of London intervenes to call in the decision to grant permission and we will be continuing our campaign.”

Those who spoke at the protest included author Lucy Jones and TV chef and presenter Andi Oliver.

Save Lea Marshes feel the new centre, which will include an extra ice rink, a gym and a dance studio, should be built on Olympic Park at Eton Manor instead of at the current site.

Responding to the protest a spokesperson for LVRPA reiterated that the “much-loved” ice centre is “reaching the end of its operational life” and “will be lost” if not rebuilt.

They added: “It will become a new community hub – a setting off point into the brilliant green space of Leyton Marsh for walkers, runners, cyclists and families.

“We are aware that there are some local objections to the plans and throughout this process have sought to engage directly with interest groups including Save Lea Marshes to discuss key areas, such as the environment and protection of biodiversity. 

“As a result, we can confirm that as part of the new development we’ll be planting 143 trees and will be enhancing the landscape around the ice centre, transforming large areas with low ecological value with significant native planting.

“This will not only be a vast aesthetic improvement, but the increase in wildlife in the area will result in a biodiversity net gain of over 35%.”

Speaking at the meeting on October 6 when the plans were approved, committee chairwoman Cllr Jenny Gray (Lab, Leytonstone) said the new centre was “not anything to be afraid of” but “something to welcome”.

Regarding the decision to build on protected land, she 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 protection as the green belt, meaning there had to be “very special circumstances” to justify the centre’s expansion.

The LVRPA claims the new centre will attract thousands more visitors and add more than £1.5 million a year and 45 new jobs to the local economy.

It also intends to invest £250,000 in community programmes over the next decade, allowing deprived groups and schools from Waltham Forest and Hackney to come to the centre for free.

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter