Unite says sorry for proposing sale of Bristol Ice Rink
THE landlord of Bristol's ice rink says it regrets that the venue has to close down.
But student accommodation provider Unite says it will press on with its redevelopment – and claims the city will benefit from the scheme.
The Evening Post revealed earlier this month that the rink in Frogmore Street was to close after more than 45 years, leaving the city without any permanent skating facilities.
It is used by hundreds of skating enthusiasts, groups and clubs and a petition against the closure has already gained more than 3,700 signatures.
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The announcement has also meant that the city's ice hockey team – the Bristol Pitbulls – is facing a bleak future.
Team manager Richie Hargreaves last night said the team would have to look for a home outside Bristol and branded the situation for sport in the city "ridiculous".
Bristol-based Unite is one of the largest student accommodation firms in the country and specialises in converting city centre office blocks into flats. It has owned the ice rink building for a decade and has decided now is the time to press ahead with the renovation of the building.
Its full plans for the building are likely to be made public next month in a series of public exhibitions. Unite has said that it may include a smaller ice rink in the designs but this will not be big enough for competitive skating or ice hockey.
A spokesman for Unite said the company had met with representatives from the Bristol Ice Rink User Group to explain the background to its proposals and discuss the option of a smaller rink and, if this did not prove acceptable to existing rink users, it was committed to providing another form of leisure facility.
He said: "We decided to redevelop the site after discussions with John Nike Group, about the long-term sustainability of the current ice rink. Their lease expires in January 2013, which will mean the closure of the rink in October 2012 to allow for decommissioning.
"This is a very unusual situation for Unite, as our developments usually take place on redundant or empty sites where the addition of student accommodation often helps regenerate a depressed area.
"We regret that this development will mean the loss of the Bristol Ice Rink; however, believe that our plans for the site will, ultimately, benefit the city. Providing a home for more students in the city centre, with their associated spending power, will provide a boost to other businesses, and the new managed student accommodation will support the future plans of the Bristol's universities, while alleviating pressure from students on the city's private housing.
"Our proposal will also include improvements to the public space around the site and the building's access and facade, which will benefit the O2 Academy and look of the area."
The company intends to include neighbours in talks over the design of the new site and a public exhibition with more details of the plans is likely to be held within weeks.
A planning application is expected by the summer and, if approved, the multi-million pound scheme could be completed by September 2014.
Clubs based at the ice rink have several hundreds of members and a new figure skating club was launched just last night. It attracts several thousand visitors a week during school holidays.
The ice rink was originally opened in 1966 as part of an entertainment complex which included a restaurant, cinema, ballroom and bingo hall. It became famous for its connections with Olympic champion Robin Cousins who trained there as a young man. Mr Cousins grew up in Sea Mills and started learning to skate as soon as the rink opened.
Pitbulls boss Mr Hargreaves said: "We went to see Unite last week and as the conversation went on it became clear where they stood. In a way it did help, because we now know exactly what Unite plan to do with the building and we are not in their plans. We then went to see council and we were told that they will support us but that ice skating is not on their agenda. We are now looking at putting together a business plan.
"We are also now looking at our options outside of Bristol. Gloucestershire Cricket Club has been through the same thing and are also looking at leaving Bristol. It is ridiculous – the way things are going there will nothing left in Bristol.
"We have people on the team who came to study in Bristol so they could play for us and it is a real shame."
The Save the Ice Rink petition is at www.thepetitionsite.com.