Published: 13:00, 25 March 2014
A whistle-stop tour of three major theme parks in Florida by councillors and council staff is being funded by taxpayers, it's been revealed.
Gravesham council leader John Burden will be joined by planning boss Cllr Jane Cribbon and communities boss Cllr Andrea Webb on the transatlantic trip.
Their expedition, which will cost about £15,500, will see them visit Disney World, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in Orlando.
The council has been working closely with developers behind plans for the giant Paramount Park proposal at Swanscombe.
It hopes to recoup the money from the developer London Resort Company Holdings during the planning process.
Joining the trio will be leader of the Tory opposition Cllr John Cubitt and Cllr Robin Theobald, the shadow planning boss.
During discussions with London Resort Company Holdings the company recommended the council would benefit from first-hand knowledge of similar-scaled projects prior to the detailed planning process.
The company is organising meetings directly with leading senior figures who have already had to deal with the massive logistic, transportation, housing and economic effects of building a major theme park resort.
Gravesham council officers Kevin Burbidge, director of housing and regeneration; economic development manager Simon Hookway; principal planning officer Peter Price and Wendy Lane, principal planner, will also be going.
During the trip there are to be detailed discussions on a range of behind-the-scenes issues in the development and running of a major global attraction similar in scale to the Swanscombe Peninsula plans.
They will be flying to Orlando on Saturday, April 19 and coming back on April 23.
Cllr Burden said: “The programme for this visit is extremely busy being packed with serious business discussions which should provide invaluable insights into the issues surrounding the development of a truly global attraction on our doorstep.
“It is entirely right that the council examines all these issues fully and we are grateful to London Resort Company Holdings for facilitating these meetings with key people and communities which have had direct experience of facing and overcoming those challenges.
“This is the biggest development project in Europe and has global significance. The impact it will have is life-changing for everyone in the area and possibly far beyond. We have to get this right and prepare to be in a position to inform the discussions yet to come.
“The impact of last week’s announcement of an accelerated Ebbsfleet Garden City on the park’s doorstep makes these meetings even more relevant.
“It would be foolish to see this project as just another planning application because in reality the scheme is of almost unimaginable proportions with colossal repercussions.”
Dartford council leader Jeremy Kite said he had no plans to follow Gravesham’s lead in their fact-finding mission.
He said: “I must say, I think it’s an unusual thing for them to be doing. I can’t see the benefit with it at this time.
“I haven’t been invited and I wouldn’t go if we had been.
“If you’re going to do this sort of research, I think there’s places closer to home.
"You’ve got Euro Disney across the Channel and other places in Europe which are easier to get to.
“I don’t think we’re at that point in the process yet. It seems like an interesting use of taxpayers’ money and not one I’m going to follow.”
What do you think? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, join in the debate below or write to Gravesend Messenger, 7 High Street, Gravesend, DA11 0BQ.
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