Story by Jack Foley
FOLLOWING the success of last years ice skating rink at Somerset House and in keeping with the ever-popular rinks in New York at Christmas (pictured above), developers have put forward plans to continue the tradition at one of the most heavily-congested venues in the capital.
Marble Arch, at the tale end of Oxford Street and a known congestion hotspot for both motorists and pedestrians (no doubt laden with seasonal gifts), could be transformed into a winter wonderland by the end of November.
The plans have been unveiled by Westminster Council and the Oxford Street Association in a bid to complement the bustling shops in the area around that time of year.
And if successful, the temporary rink would be constructed on the eastern island, providing skating facilities for 200 skaters per session, with a maximum of 10 sessions per day. Skaters would be able to indulge their passion, or merely avoid getting those bumps and bruises, anytime between 8am and 11pm, until January 15.
The £400,000 bid would also entail the construction of a temporary café.
The application, which is currently being considered, is seeking permission to use the site for up to five years, so that skating facilities could be installed as a regular attraction as part of the festive build-up.
Ice skating, of course, has long been a popular tourist attraction in New York, where it is available at the Rockerfeller Centre and in Central Park during Christmas and the New Year, while an estimated 75,000 people made use of the temporary ice rink at Somerset House on the Strand last year.
Commenting on the viability of the scheme, Sally Humphreys, director of the Oxford Street Association, said that some of the West Ends biggest stores were fully behind it, as it would serve to enhance the family outing, Christmas shopping experience.
However, while traders and sponsors are keen to get their skates on for the project, there has been concern expressed from certain quarters.
Transport for London has expressed fears about pedestrian safety, particularly
when crossing the notoriously busy roads surrounding the island, while the
Metropolitan Police have highlighted the risk of pickpockets, who are known
to increase their activities in Oxford Street and surrounding areas during
this time of year.
A lack of suitable lavatory facilities is also seen as an issue that would have to be addressed.
However, Westminster Council is confident that most of the Met's concerns have been addressed, while the applicants have agreed to have a minimum of 15 staff on duty at any one time to keep a close eye on visitors and deter the threat of criminal activity.
A decision on the proposal is expected within weeks.