Dawn of a new
ice age

The Lee Valley Ice Centre aims to be the UK’s most sustainable. LDA Design’s Joanna Asia Milewska explains how. 

LDA Design is responsible for a £1.5m landscape transformation to realise the site’s ecological potential and let typical marshland species recolonise the site. The ambition is to make nature and climate resilience part of the visitor experience.

Most acknowledge that when it comes to climate, nature recovery and creating greater social equity, business as usual isn’t enough. Innovation and new thinking are needed at every turn.

The Lee Valley Ice Centre (LVIC) which opened in north east London in the summer aims to be the most sustainable ice centre in the UK.

The new building replaces a near window-less 1980s single rink venue that had reached the end of its operational life. The LVIC now provides two Olympic-sized ice rinks, suitable for elite skaters as well as everyone else, a gym, studios, café and community space. It doubles capacity to over half a million people a year.

A significant investment that’s a clear win for the community. So far, so good. If the story ended there it would be a good one, but in almost every way, the LVIC story is one of reinvention.

The site is adjacent to the River Lea in Waltham Forest and to Walthamstow Marsh Nature Reserve which is one of the last remaining examples of London’s once widespread floodplain grasslands. The old centre with its amenity lawns and extensive car parking never belonged to the history of the place. LDA Design is responsible for a £1.5m landscape transformation to realise the site’s ecological potential and let typical marshland species recolonise the site. The ambition is to make nature and climate resilience part of the visitor experience.

With Expedition Engineering, we have designed a system to re-use ice melt, saving up to six million litres of water a year.  This sets a benchmark for future ice rink developments.

Both the stunning new building, by architects FaulknerBrowns, and the landscape have been designed to use water carefully and recycle wherever possible. This includes, for the first time ever in the UK, the ice melt water. In a busy rink, the ice is resurfaced up to 10 times a day, scraping off the top layers to create a smooth surface. Up to 16m3 of ice shavings will be created each day from these two ice rinks. The old ice centre disposed of the shavings in the traditional way, discharging the melt water into the sewerage system.

With Expedition Engineering, LDA Design has designed a system to re-use the ice melt from the new centre, saving up to six million litres of water a year.  This sets a benchmark for future ice rink developments.

The ice melt will be treated by filtering through constructed wetlands with ecologically rich ponds, including two ponds at the main entrance to the Ice Centre. They all feature plants native to the marshes which lie just behind the Centre. A mixture of open water and surface leaf cover, as well as shallow banks and vertical plants, are attracting birds and mammals and will provide breeding habitat and cover from predators.

The cleaned water will create a fresh flow to improve water quality in a currently near-stagnant oxbow lake on the River Lea, following final approval from the Environment Agency. Oxygenation of water in the lake will greatly support efforts by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority to reintroduce the European otter there. 

A holt has been installed in the oxbow lake and is widely hoped that once the water is healthy and capable of supporting fish and plant life, a pair of otters currently surveying the banks of the River Lea will choose to set up home there.

LVIC sets a new UK standard for leisure centre design bucking a trend which is seeing many centres facing closure. It shows what good looks like, and how to do things differently. It means that London has gained the UK’s best ice rink, set in a glorious ecologically rich setting.

Ice melt water is also being used to establish plants in the beds along the gabion walls around the perimeter of the building. Native climbers like roses, honeysuckle, hop and ivy will cover the walls and create a microclimate for mosses and lichens, providing a variety of food sources and hiding spaces for invertebrates, birds, bats, amphibians and reptiles. Four months after the opening of the ice centre, grass snakes have been observed retreating into the gabion walls.

The project is supported by a wider exemplar surface water drainage strategy which maximises the volume of water clean enough to be allowed into the River Lea and helps to manage flood risk.

A key benefit of this pioneering approach is a significant reduction in the energy use and carbon emissions which arise from the pumping and treatment associated with discharging of ice melt to the sewerage system. 

LVIC was an early adopter of biodiversity net gain and urban greening factor standards, and LDA Design worked closely with LB Waltham Forest to deliver exceptional levels of ecological gain: 35 percent for biodiversity net gain, over three times the government standard, and 0.6 for urban greening, double the requirement. Moves to achieve this included replacing the amenity lawns and overspill car park with wildflower meadows. 

 

The new Centre gives visitors not only the chance to use elite-level sports and training facilities but also to immerse themselves in a thriving ecology. A green corridor along the site’s northern edge allows invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles and small mammals to move between the woodlands to the east and the west. 

Over 150 native trees have been planted including Black Poplars from cuttings harvested locally: traditionally these marked the field boundaries on floodplains such as Walthamstow Marshes. There are swift boxes in the building, insect hotels in the bicycle shelters and hedgehog shelters in the woodland. Rare and threatened bumblebees have already been sighted. All this has encouraged LB Waltham Forest to include an annual biodiversity awareness education programme for up to 30 schools and local groups as part of community activity at the centre over the next ten years. 

LVIC sets a new UK standard for leisure centre design bucking a trend which is seeing leisure centres threatened with closure. It is showing what good looks like, and how to do things differently. It means that London has gained the UK’s best ice rink, set in a glorious ecologically rich setting. 

This article first appeared in the Landscape Institute Journal, Winter 2024 edition.

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