A ground-breaking ceremony has been held to mark the official start of building work on a new, permanent ice rink on the edge of Cambridge.
Donors who have committed funds to the project gathered at the site off Newmarket Road earlier to witness the first spade going into the ground.
The start of construction is a key milestone in the 20-year quest to find suitable land upon which to build the rink.
South Cambridgeshire District Council is providing a £1.85 million loan to Cambridge Leisure and Ice Centre (CLIC) for the new venue, which will be on land leased by Marshall of Cambridge.
Construction work will now commence, with CLIC and their development partner Cool Venues anticipating a completion date of autumn 2018.
The new rink will boast a 340-seat arena, with room for several hundred more standing spectators, and be one of the most energy efficient ice rinks in the UK.
The 56 metre by 26 metre ice pad will meet the requirements of the International Ice Hockey Federation, allowing visiting teams from around the world to play ice hockey.
Activities on offer in the arena will include figure skating, ice hockey, ice dancing, speed skating and ice discos, as well as may other events for people of all abilities and ages.
The community nature of the new rink is being highlighted by CLIC and operator GLL, who plan to offer time on the ice out to local schools for use during physical activity classes.
They also hope to run polar educational campaigns by tapping into Cambridge’s status as the major ice research centre of Europe.
The Council loan, which was the last piece of the funding jigsaw which allowed building work to start, makes sound financial sense for taxpayers as it will generate a return that will be re-invested into providing services for residents.
Councillor Simon Edwards, South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “It was fantastic to be on the site where this time next year we should be skating, so I’d better get practicing now!
“As a Council we are able to borrow funds at preferential rates, so it made sense for us to do that, and then pass the money onto CLIC to get this project off the ground. With the premium we’ve added to the borrowing rate that CLIC will repay, we’re safe in the knowledge that it’ll generate a return for us to re-invest in services for residents.
“It was also brilliant to hear how much of a community hub CLIC and operator GLL want this new facility to be. I’ve no doubt that residents from across South Cambridgeshire will be looking forward to tying up their ice skates and taking full advantage of having a world-class facility like this on their doorstep.”
Professor Bill Harris, Chairman of CLIC, said: “Twenty years of campaigning for this community ice arena, which will be home ice for the Cambridge University Ice Hockey team, one of the oldest ice-hockey clubs in the world, has been one of the great rides of my life. I am so happy that we have reached this point, and it is thanks to the tireless work and generosity of scores of like-minded people in many sectors of the greater community who appreciate the multitude of benefits that such a facility will bring to Cambridge. I now can’t wait for its doors to open in the autumn!”
Robert Marshall, the Group Chief Executive of Marshall, said: “We are delighted the new Ice Rink is finally able to proceed, and we have been pleased to be able to help with the lease of the necessary land. We believe the new facility will be an excellent addition for the community to enjoy ice skating and related activities.
“Having the venue so close to our new Wing housing development will also help to establish this as a strong new community for Cambridge."
Jim Kay, director of Cool Venues, said: ‘We started this journey with CLIC almost 4 years ago and are delighted that it’s at this ground-breaking stage today.
‘Having the very best quality of ice, together with its diverse programme of activities, the Cambridge Ice Arena will deliver joy for thousands of people. We’re hoping too, that in time it will also produce Olympians.
‘With its exemplary sustainability credentials, the venue will have the minimal impact on the environment.
‘We look forward to delivering the venue by the autumn of next year and very much appreciate the efforts of our team in getting us this far.’
The Operator, Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL), the UK’s leading leisure charitable social enterprise, will manage the facility over a 26-year contract under its Better brand. GLL, which already runs ice rinks in Swindon and London, will provide an affordable, accessible, exciting and varied skating programme for the public, clubs and Cambridge University’s ice hockey team.