Ancient ruling spells end of ice-rink bonanza

Plans to build a winter wonderland attraction area around the Cathedral have been put on ice – because of an ancient law protecting burial grounds.

The winter attractions would have included an ice rink on Cathedral green with a small cafe and market stalls around it.

But the idea has been shelved because of the Burial Grounds Act 1884 – which states no buildings, temporary or otherwise, can be built on burial grounds, even if they are disused.

President of Chichester chamber of commerce Iain Shepherd was hoping the ice rink would have become a Christmas tradition for the city.

He said: "It would have been fairly tremendous in terms of bringing visitors to Chichester. The idea was that parents would drop off their children at the ice rink while they went shopping.

"It is too late to do anything for this year. It is disappointing but what is encouraging is the unprecedented levels of cooperation from those involved.

"I think people were a bit surprised at what the ancient law said. There is a need to go through these laws and review them."

The idea of the project, first proposed for last Christmas, developed in January after city leaders heard about the success of the rink at Winchester Cathedral.

When Winchester opened its ice rink last Christmas, it proved a huge success – in particular for the Debenhams store, which benefited with a 23 per cent increase in sales.

Cathedral communar David Mowlam said: "It was disappointing but in some ways it is excellent protection for the cathedral green. It is just one of those things.

"The hope was it would attract people into Chichester to do their shopping. It could have particularly attracted families. It was a lovely idea. Most people were enthusiastic about it.

"We are very grateful to the district council and the chamber of commerce for their enthusiastic support for the project and Cousins Entertainment for being prepared to take the financial risk."

There was one possible loophole to the law. If the ground had not been used for 50 years, then it could have been built on – but only if the land wasn't consecrated, which it is at Cathedral green.

The ice rink would have been open air with a small changing facility for skaters built on the side. It would have run from the last weekend of November to the first week of January.

A Chichester District Council spokeswoman said: "As we have not had an ice rink in Chichester before, it would have been a novel feature for the city. But we still have plenty of other activities planned for Christmas.

"Unfortunately there are a number of legal obstacles in the way, in particular legislation regarding building on burial grounds.

"This legislation means we are unable, at present, to make the ice rink a reality.

"The council's planning team has been involved at every stage, advising what permission would be needed for the ice rink.

"There were no problems with planning permission as a formal application had not been submitted."