Could £30m plans for two Olympic ice rinks endanger Lee Valley's hedgehogs?
PUBLISHED: 09:23 20 August 2019 | UPDATED: 09:33 20 August 2019
Credit: FaulknerBrowns Architects and LDA Design;
If you had to choose between them, would you pick hedgehogs or a new ice centre? This is the stark choice eco campaigners claim is on the cards with the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority's plans to revamp - and expand - Lea Bridge Road ice centre. Emma Bartholomew finds out what's on the cards.
The 34-year-old Lee Valley Ice Centre is "fast reaching the end of its operational life" according to the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA), which is consulting on plans to build a brand new facility with two Olympic size rinks.
But nature lovers claim the plans will encroach on green space and endanger hedgehogs.
The venue in Lea Bridge Road would double capacity for ice hockey and have the capacity to double visitor numbers to more than half a million annually.
The massive building which would occupy double the footprint of the existing one would also house a gym, dance studio, café and other community spaces.
But campaigners from Save Lea Marshes - a group who have campaigned to keep the marshes of the Lower Lea Valley open, green and free from development for the past 50 years - have pointed out it would swallow up even more Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) than the current ice rink is already built on.
MOL has the same status as the green belt and was designated to protect areas of landscape, recreation, nature conservation and scientific interest.
Furthermore the open space which would be swallowed up by the proposed development is home to hedgehogs - a species whose numbers are plummeting.
According to the State of Britain's Hedgehogs 2018 report, numbers have halved in the last 20 years. In the 1950s an estimated 30m of the prickly creatures were roaming in the British countryside, and now the number stands at less than a million.
Hedgehogs are a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and data gathered during a survey in October 2016 proves hedgehogs have made the strip of land behind the ice centre - where the mown grass meets dense scrub and trees - their home
"Anecdotal evidence from dog walkers supports this evidence," said Abigail Woodman who has submitted an objection to the plan on behalf of SLM. "This is land that will disappear inside the curtilage of the proposed development presenting us with a stark choice: would you like hedgehogs or an ice centre?"
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She added: "Attempts to relocate hedgehogs away from the proposed site of a car park for HS2 and further into Regent's Park have failed, demonstrating how territorial hedgehogs are."
Eradicating hedgehogs from the marsh would be "unacceptable", says SLM.
"Even more so if it is at the behest of an organisation that has a statutory obligation to conserve habitats and species and claims to value biodiversity," said Ms Woodman. "The LVRPA should be developing a species action plan to support the population of hedgehogs on Leyton Marsh not destroying it."
The LVRPA on the other hand insists "sustainability is at the heart of the project", and that biodiversity would be "boosted" around the ice centre. Areas currently "devoid of ecological value" would be transformed with "significant native planting" thanks to their building works.
The organisation, also founded 50 years ago, has pointed to the build's eco-credentials from "highly efficient" air source heat pumps, zero carbon emissions and plans to recycle melted ice to water the green spaces surrounding the site.
SLM is not convinced with the LVRPA's business case to put a twin-pad ice centre in Lea Bridge Road however, and is worried the building would set a "dangerous precedent for the gradual nibbling away" of MOL.
They would rather see a new ice rink built at Eton Manor, within the Olympic Park, where feasibility studies have also been carried out, .
This would ensure continuity of ice skating provision while a new venue was being built and would have better transport links once a station is built at Ruckholt Road.
Ms Woodman said: "Far more people find joy and solace in the marshes than will ever set foot in an ice rink. And, of course, the marshes are also home to plants, birds, insects and small mammals.
"The disturbance caused by the development and by the loss of some of Leyton Marsh will have a devastating impact on those who value the peace and quiet to help them navigate the ups and downs of life."
A spokesperson from the LVRPA said: "We have received overwhelmingly positive responses to the new venue since the public consultation launched in June. Over 1,000 contributions have been made to the consultation so far, and over 90pc have been positive."
The consultation ends on September 1. To comment see icecentreredevelopment.com .