An environmental campaign group is protesting plans to nearly double the size of the Lee Valley Ice Centre this Halloween.

Save Lea Marshes will meet for a socially distanced demonstration at 2pm on Saturday (October 31) to express its anger at the decision to build on legally protected land.

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

The LVRPA, which owns both the centre and the surrounding land, said the current building is worn out after decades of use and would have to close if not rebuilt.

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

Read more: Lee Valley Ice Centre expansion approved by council

A Save Lea Marshes spokesperson said the new centre “will destroy an important wildlife corridor, including for endangered hedgehogs, twenty mature trees and a mature hedgerow”.

They added: “This is Metropolitan Open Land which has always belonged to the people and serves as an increasingly important space for the local community.

“More than ever we need improved access to green open space for our mental and physical well being.

“This will be strictly socially distanced and we ask all attendees to come in masks.

“We would like people to also dress up for the occasion, dressing as ghosts to represent the threat to our wildlife, if they are happy to.”

The protest’s ghost theme is inspired by a campaign group in Dorset, who put up “ghost hedgehogs” at the side of roads to remind drivers to go slowly to avoid hitting them.

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Speaking at the meeting on October 6, planning committee chairman 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.”

Hackney mum Emily, whose 12-year-old daughter has skated at the centre for six years, argued the area’s young figure skaters would “lose their chance at a career” if the centre moved.

She said: “There is a chronic shortage of sports spaces in (Hackney) and a particular shortage of spaces for sports that attract girls.

“There is a very strong community of skaters that has been there since the rink was founded. We have to hold that together, there are not many places like that in London.”

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The centre is on Metropolitan Open Land, which receives the same protection as the green belt, meaning there had to be “very special circumstances” to justify its expansion.

The LVRPA plans to plant 143 trees on the site and 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 will also £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.

Save Lea Marshes will be livestreaming their protest on Facebook here.

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