Whitley “Saved”, Thoughts On Councils & A Good Site For A New Rink…

Well, the initial consultation period for the North Tyneside future housing development has now closed and the Deputy Mayor has already announced that there is no intention of bulldozing the area containing Whitley Bay Ice Rink, Whitley Bay Football Club. The question, therefore, has to be asked – why did they even include these in the proposal at all? They ought to have realised that it would kick up one hell of a stink.

In some respects, I do have a bit of sympathy for the local council here. They – and indeed all councils across the country – are under immense pressure from central government to come up with sites to locate their quotas of new housing developments.  In fact, a year or two ago, all councils were required by central government to audit all the assets that they currently hold and put a monetary value on them.  What this has done is make councils more aware of various packages of land that they own and had maybe forgotten about – and they now all have potential price tags on them.

This is why local free car parks or under-used recreation grounds are now coming under increased scrutiny. Rather than paying out to maintain something that doesn’t actually bring in any money, certain councils are looking to offload these balance sheet liabilities to housing developers .

And this is where the North Tyneside Council’s inclusion of Whitley Bay Ice Rink in their consultation plans is a little bit of a mystery. The site doesn’t actually belong to the council , they don’t plough lots of public money into keeping it going and, presumably, they receive local rates and taxes from the rink operators. And then there are the other shops  and amenities in the area as well. There must be many much more suitable unused or derelict brownfield sites that they could use first.

At a time when we are being encouraged to live healthier lifestyles and take up more sports, it ought to be fairly obvious that any plan that involves getting rid of a popular ice rink, football ground, rugby club and cricket ground would generate lots of opposition. And even if they did build houses all round there – all those new people moving in would still need leisure amenities.

Unfortunately, councils are notoriously bad at handling these sort things and they don’t really like consultations with the public as the public don’t always agree with want they want to. They also have a terrible track record in cutting services that the public wants – such as libraries, public toilets and rural bus routes – claiming that there is no money for these things, while at the same time, having a seemingly infinite call on the public purse for all sorts of less popular “green” and “diversity” related initiatives.

As an example, look at how much your council, my council – in fact any council – has spent on things for, say, cyclists. Now, I am not having a pop at cyclists here – in fact, I have sympathy with them.  Just look at the ridiculous cycle lanes that they put in the gutter of some busy roads. Cars zoom past you in a highly dangerous manner and then you have to swerve out into the path of the traffic because people park next to the kerb, blocking the so-called “cycle lane”.

This is arguably a big waste of money and even dangerous for its supposed users but the councils can then declare that they have spent “x-amount” on facilities for cyclists and also trumpet how much they are helping the environment.

Also, how much do you think has been spent right across the country on those red tarmac areas for cyclists that spread right across the lane at traffic lights?  How often do you see those being  used by anybody?  Hardly ever, I would imagine.  Very few cyclists seem to stop at traffic lights and that’s another huge expense that could be spent on something more beneficial to the community as a whole.

Here in the Land Of The Seagull they actually diverted the traffic along one road (not a main thoroughfare or even a particularly touristy road), made it one way and built a huge cycle path in place of the other lane.  The odd thing is that this “wonder cycle path” doesn’t  actually link with any other dedicated cycle paths at either of its end – and, not surprisingly, it tends to be completely devoid of 2 wheel users.

And this is not just a new thing either. In Peterborough where I come from, they built miles and miles of separate cycle ways alongside the new urban dual carriageways when they were first opened in the early 1980s.  Nice idea in principle but when you are cycling along lonely, poorly lit paths, dodging all the broken glass that is strewn across them, – going through underpasses that remind you of a scene from a Charles Bronson vigilante film and Death Wish, you can understand why most people still prefer to cycle on the road or the pavement.

I have talked about cycling and cycle paths here not because I want to demonise cycling – au contraire – I want people to be able to enjoy cycling in a safe environment. It’s just that these cycle lanes and paths will have been laid out right across the country and it is something that everybody will have seen in their town as well and can easily relate to and quantify. If you were able to add up how much has been spent on these types of projects over the last 30 years, the total would be astronomical.

But wouldn’t it be nice if the government and local authorities could promote ice sports with the same zeal as they do cycling? And if people were looking for places to build MORE ice rinks rather than looking at them as potential building sites..?

Deeside is a great example of a local authority (Flintshire) that DOES fully support their local ice rink and ice hockey team. The local authority built the rink in 1974 as part of Deeside Leisure Centre and, when the existing rink needed replacing in the mid-1990s, they extended the building, built a new ice rink next door and kept the old building for roller skating – and now skateboarding.

I personally think there should be a law that every town and city HAS to have its own ice rink, whether it be a stand-alone ice arena or as part of a multi sports complex. In fact, if the good works that had been done by the Sports Council in the 1980s and early 1990s that led to all those new rinks opening back then had continued in the same vein, we by now have had a decent ice rink in practically every town and city in the UK. Ice hockey would be being played in many more places than it is now – from Paisley (again) to Penzance – there would be a huge number of home grown players fighting it out for places in the Pool A GB team and life would be WONDERFUL…

Don’t hold your breath, though….

Author’s Photo:

Here’s a good place for a new ice rink. No it’s not that mound of mashed potato from the “Close Encounters” film – it’s the old Pontins holiday camp site between Blackpool and St Annes. The site has been bulldozed ready for – wait for it –  YES….new houses!  However, it is situated at the end of the runway for Blackpool airport so, while that portion of the land wouldn’t be so good for housing, I think it would be great for a new state-of-the-art ice arena.

There’s enough room so you could lay it out properly – not shoehorning it into an existing building like at Cleveleys or the proposed new TVR in Blackpool. You could have decent, easily accessible seating all round – say 2000 capacity and room for proper changing facilities, cafes etc inside.  You could have enough room for car parking outside and the location is also handy for motorway, bus, tram, rail and even air connections.

Any rink builders out there? You heard it here first! Do I get a commission…..?

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