THE Oxford Ice Rink looks like it could be an Ikea warehouse at best, or possibly a military base for drone projects or at worst a maximum security prison. Now it looks like it might become a listed building. But why?

The Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society (yes, that’s their title) asked the heritage body – Historic England – to list the building so it will gain extra protection from being demolished under planning laws.

David Clark from that Oxfordshire society put the case to keep the building: “The ice rink was built at a time when skating in Britain had gained great interest because we had a number of successful skaters on the world stage.

“It is really quite an impressive and remarkable structure that is semi-industrial, but looks like a ship sailing along the Thames.

“All that comes together and makes it one of Oxford’s landmark buildings. It is worth a listing.”

The Society has waited for the rink to be more than 30 years old because that is the generally accepted minimum time frame for starting the listing process.

David Clark then added what was probably the main string to his bow – that the ice rink was threatened with demolition because of plans to redevelop the Oxpens region of the city.

Is it really such an impressive and remarkable structure? The architectural commentator Martin Pawley thinks so: “It was unorthodox in appearance, one of the first generation of mast-supported and long span structures to exploit the corrosion-resistant coatings developed for off-shore structures in the North Sea; but it was also very cheap.”

The architect of the ice rink, Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, agrees: “The cost was brought down by using ‘off-the-peg’ cold store panels and the simplicity of the building has always been a cause for celebration.”

Clare Price, conservation adviser for the Twentieth Century Society argues “as early use of the pared-down industrial ethic, the style and structure aptly fits the building’s location and displays Sir Nicholas Grimshaw’s skill at producing effective design on a small budget and a constrained site”.

But what exactly are these ‘experts’ getting at? Do they want to celebrate a building because, as they have all pointed out, it was done on the cheap and is, in a modern analogy, a jewel in the crown of austerity? Probably not quite.

Then there is the ‘shape’ argument. Clare Price says: “The Oxford Ice Rink is an innovative ship-like building which floats on the water meadows on the outskirts of Oxford city centre.”

In a profile of the ice rink architect, Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, the report states “His ice rink design has become known as ‘Cutty Sark’ because it was designed to look like a tall ship.”

I’ve never heard this building referred to as the ‘Cutty Sark’. It was always known, at the time of construction, as ‘Barbara’s Battleship’, named after Councillor Barbara Gatehouse who, as chair of the Recreation and Amenities Committee, commandeered and steered this project through the depths of bureaucracy, past the planning committee and onto the skyline of Oxford.

Between the time it was put up in 1984 until it was refurbished in 2012 the ice rink became run-down; and it was regarded not so much as a tall ship as a small shipwreck. Is it reasonable to list the building in order to protect it? Not according to the leader of Oxford City Council, Bob Price.

“The city council has been very clear that the ice rink is a popular and profitable facility, particularly for young people, and will remain in its current location,” he said. “If the application for listing is motivated by a wish to ensure that it is maintained, it is entirely unnecessary.”

But for opponents of the building there is still hope. The building is located in the Oxpens area covered by a masterplan completed for the council by David Lock Associates in 2012. The masterplan allows for both the retention of the rink or its demolition and replacement by retirement homes for the elderly.

The options boil down to skating for the young or homes for the elderly. And who do you think is likely to win this battle in the end?

It’s a choice between a rock and a hard place.