It has recently been revealed that Leyton Marsh is regarded by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority as the preferred site for a new ‘double-pad’ ice centre. This is the development we have been suspecting and fearing was in the pipeline ever since the destructive development of the multi-million pound temporary Olympic structure they built on the marsh and deconstructed in 2012, leaving a serious mess of our requisitioned common land and no legacy benefit for all the taxpayers’ money spent.
Just as the marsh has started to recover, a range of species appearing for the first time since the inappropriate sports turf was rolled to cover the scarred land left by the development, we now face it being dug up all over again. For a venue that may just be the beginning of the massive development planned by the folk who just love to ‘regenerate’ green into brown…
Leyton Marsh, which they disingenuously refer to as the ‘the Lea Bridge Road site’ apparently came out top when they conducted a statistical analysis of four possible sites for a double-pad ice centre they wish to construct in the Lower Lee Valley. The four sites under consideration for development are all supposedly ‘protected’ Metropolitan Open Land, they are: The Waterworks Centre, Picketts Lock, Eton Manor and Leyton Marsh. However, on closer inspection, we discovered the Authority’s ‘viability’ analysis of the sites in question is not what it appeared to be.
Leyton Marsh came out on top in their analysis, primarily due to its ‘physical characteristics’, which sounds convincing and benign – they must mean the green of Leyton Marsh and the close proximity to the beautiful Walthamstow Marshes, right? Wrong. The category ‘physical characteristics’ is determined by:
- How the curtilage of the ice pads would fit on the site
- Capability of expansion
- Ability to generate other revenue opportunities
- Ground and Landscape constraints (example – proximity of Flood Relief Channel to Waterworks site)
Now if you break down this criterion, you can really sum it up in one word – expansion! They want the maximum possible ground area and least possible number of physical constraints so that they can expand the site as much as possible and in doing so create the maximum number of commercial ventures, or to use the LVRPA’s favourite phrase, ‘revenue opportunities’.
The Park Authority is planning to double the skating capacity of the ice centre AND have a gym and dance studio on top AND still they want the capacity to expand beyond this. Indeed, it seems that it is the capacity to expand which means Leyton Marsh was favoured over Eton Manor, which at least has the advantage of being in the Olympic zone, or the spiritual home of empty car parks, however you wish to conceive of it.
In fact, if you take the category of ‘physical characteristics’, or expansion, out of the equation, then Leyton Marsh actually comes third in the scoring system they have devised, behind Eton Manor and the Waterworks.
Now this is where a friend of SLM was assured by the Chief Exec of the LVRPA that there would be no expansion beyond the red lines. On the plans, a solid ‘red line’ runs alongside the river Lea, so the Special Interest for Nature Conservation site appears to be protected as the building cannot go any further west of this point. The Canal and Rivers Trust also own some of this land which restricts development, at least by the LVRPA, adjacent to the river Lea. Yet there is a dotted ‘red line’ around all the buildings. Shaun Dawson was not clear about what sort of expansion would happen in this area and presumably adaptations can be made to the plans for building and development works. We have seen ‘variations’ to development works many times; the Council simply need to give permission for a ‘variation’ in planning conditions and the nature of development works can transform dramatically. The ODA, for example, initially applied to the Planning Committee of Waltham Forest Council to excavate just 15mm of soil in order to put up a 11m structure on Leyton Marsh. It was simply not viable that this would be observed, yet Waltham Forest Council appear to lack the basic oversight of planning applications that local residents undertake. They will once again decide what planning permission is given on Leyton Marsh and, as any even half-aware Waltham Forest resident will know, their history in opposing inappropriate or oversized developments leaves much to be desired!
Since they granted permission for the temporary basketball training facility on Leyton Marsh, the status of the land has changed. Its use is now narrowly defined as being for the purpose of ‘recreation and leisure’. Its value for nature is not taken into consideration. Its openness should be protected due to its MOL status. However, controversial developments that compromise that very openness have been regularly permitted on Metropolitan Open Land, locally the development of the commercial livery on Leyton Marshes and the construction of a car park on Hackney Marshes went unopposed by the planning authorities in the last couple of years.
When Leyton Marsh was chosen for the site of the temporary basketball training facility we were aware that ‘temporary’ often simply opens the door to something permanent. This was one of the reasons we campaigned so hard to prevent that construction. Now we see how that development is likely to open the door to the expansion of the Ice Centre because I have little doubt that when Waltham Forest comes to consider this at the planning stage, reference will be made to the precedent the temporary facility set for using the marshes for sport facilities.
In addressing concerns about Leyton Marsh, Shaun Dawson ambiguously and, with our experience, somewhat ominously said, ‘The relationship between the ice centre and the marsh has to change.’
What’s more, whilst the new double-pad ice centre is under construction, we have been told that there will be construction of a ‘temporary’ ice centre that users will be able to access at the same time. At the presentations about the plans, the audience were told that any such structure would be at the front of the ice centre, on the car park. However, if you look at the site, this is likely to mean there will be overspill development onto Leyton Marsh backwards or the destruction of trees and other greenery to the side of the present venue. Oh and they might just find that the site of the former and hardly used ‘basketball training facility’ has a handy plastic membrane underground, sectioning off the contaminated material underneath, and all the electrical wiring and pipes that served the former facility and all the original foundations still in the ground. But I’m sure they were just buried by accident weren’t they?
So we’d like to suggest our own categories for LVRPA consideration when planning their new facilities on Leyton Marsh:
– Views of the marsh will be seriously obstructed from Lea Bridge Road and the integrity of our valued Lea Valley marshes as a green lung for East London will be compromised.
– Noise pollution will be an issue for local residents, particularly at Essex Wharf, and especially during the night where they already have to put up with an incessant hum which I remember well from the days of the community protection camp on the marsh. Light pollution will also increase and inevitably affect wildlife.
– Ground contamination must be considered since the site is contaminated by heavy metals, asbestos and alkaline soils, as well as known UXOs. Assurances that this will be dealt with ‘appropriately’ just do not wash, considering that spoil from the previous development had to be removed as toxic waste, and not before marsh users had been exposed to contaminants.
– Expandability: one of the most concerning aspects of the chosen site is that it is preferred due to its potential for expansion. Our community love this marsh and do not wish to see it built on. The stables have already seen 12 expansions on to previously open public land on Leyton Marshes. This is a worrying precedent.
– Car parking: the current car park is rarely full, a bigger car park will lead to yet more felling of trees and reduction of green space and yet a bigger venue will no doubt have one. Car parking increases will increase traffic, congestion and air pollution on the Lea Bridge Road. The Mini Holland scheme, which just led to the destruction of mature trees on the marsh, was meant to reduce reliance on cars.
– ‘Development, Development, Development‘ Leyton Marsh acts as a buffer for the SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) on Walthamstow Marsh. Walthamstow Marsh is rapidly getting enclosed and cut off. I understand that there are plans for a housing development on Argall Road on the other side of the railway line, there is Riverside Close on the other side of the river and now there is the threat of development on Leyton Marsh.
– Low Spec: One of the reasons Eton Manor was not selected as the prime venue is due to the higher building spec that would be required, suggesting the building on Lea Bridge Road will be visually poor, not unlike the current building.
‘Lastly but not leastly’ we know you lie LVRPA, you lie and you lie again; we have comprehensive experience of dishonesty and disregard for the safety and welfare of the public during previous ‘development’ works on Leyton Marsh. And we will be with you every step of the way again as you try and tear up the marsh –as valuable to nature as it is to the hundreds of local residents without gardens.