Plymouth City Council leader Richard Bingley has urged businessman James Brent to come up with a strategy for delivering the city’s new ice rink after a young girl wrote him a letter begging for the facility to be built. The Tory supremo said he is fully aware of the economic challenges facing the financial viability of a new ice arena but said that if someone promises to do something they should go ahead and do it.
Cllr Bingley and other leading councillors received a letter from 14-year-old ice skater Josie Brinton which outlined the importance of the Mayflower Ice Arena project for Plymouth. It came a year after Mr Brent, now newly named as chair of University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, said his firm was struggling to make the scheme financially viable.
Cllr Bingley said he was aware of the cost issues facing the project, earmarked for land near Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park stadium, but said he’d still like to see it constructed. He said: “I would hope that people honour the things they pledge to do when they take responsibility for something.”
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And he added: “I would like to see an ice rink for Plymouth. However I do appreciate that the laws of economics have to prevail here and that if there is not an immediate short-term solution at hand to provide an ice rink for Plymouth they should bring forward a strategy for a facility in future.”
The ice arena project has been a desire of Mr Brent’s and the city’s since 2012 when one of Mr Brent’s other companies bought the Pavilions site from Plymouth City Council.
One stipulation of that deal was he had to provide a new ice rink for the city. The project received full planning permission on May 19, 2019.
Cllr Bingley confirmed he had seen the letter written by Miss Brinton to himself and other councillors, council officers and the city’s MPs. In the letter Miss Brinton wrote: “A new ice rink would help keep kids off the streets and give them an equal opportunity to compete more in international competitions, as well as the Olympics.
“The ice hockey team would be able to play matches on their home rink, therefore bringing in a large income to the area. Sports such as these have a massive impact on mental and physical wellbeing as it relies on a lot of focus and concentration as well as meeting new people.
“It works on social skills, encouraging people away from screens and social media which helps keep pressure off the NHS. It would also open up opportunities for the city’s university who have a skating club and to the naval base who have an ice hockey team to play matches and continuous practice.”
Miss Brinton said she had been skating for almost two years and said: “To me skating feels like my safe space where I can keep my mind off things that are bothering me. I am hoping that by writing to you I will gain your support in this matter and prove that there is still interest and a high demand for the rink to be developed within Plymouth.”
Mr Brent declined a recent approach from PlymouthLive to speak about the Mayflower Ice Arena. But in 2021, the company HHP Nominee Ltd, of which he is the sole director, said it has not given up on the project but was likely to make a large loss on the build, meaning it had to reassess its options.
The proposed 1,500-seater arena was well on track in early 2020, with construction expected to start that year on a 40,000sq ft building sited between the redeveloped stadium grandstand and the Life Centre sports complex. But that was before the Covid pandemic reached the UK, causing lockdowns and subsequent problems for the construction industry.
Contracts to build and operate the new ice arena were within days of being signed when the pandemic arrived in the UK. A heads of terms agreement had been struck with a major leisure operator for the long-term lease of the Mayflower Ice Arena.
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Under the proposed agreement, land owner HHP Nominee Ltd agreed to pay for the construction of the “shell and core” of the building and the operator agreed to pay the significant costs involved for the fit-out of the ice arena. But on March 13, 2020, just three days before the Government ordered the first lockdowns, the operator “ understandably” notified HHP Nominee that in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting uncertainty, it was not at that point willing to enter into the agreement to lease the arena.
Meanwhile, a separate contract to build the arena, which had also been substantially agreed between HHP Nominee and its chosen contractor, had to be put on hold following the proposed operator’s decision to withdraw. In addition to the loss of the proposed tenant, which has an impact on rental income and also the funding of fit-out costs, construction costs across the UK have increased and investment values for comparable leisure properties have fallen.
HHP Nominee said this led to a “viability gap” and a large loss on the project. But a spokesman stressed in 2021 that the company was doing all it reasonably could to address the issue and had not abandoned hope of finding a solution.
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