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Paramount Park deal collapses

By Chris Price

Developers building a giant theme park in Kent have made a shock split with Paramount Pictures, the film studio which was to lend its name to the resort’s rides and attractions.

London Resort Company Holdings, which first revealed plans for the £3.2 billion project in 2012, said cutting ties with the Hollywood giants would not affect its goal to submit a planning application in November.

However, the decision means the theme park – up until now known as London Paramount – will not feature the studio’s wealth of big-name movie franchises including Mission: Impossible, Transformers and the Godfather.

It is understood the resort’s developers and Paramount have been unable to agree terms on some of the rights to major films, including the image rights for some of their top stars.

Sources from within the industry said the team at London Resort Company Holdings (LRCH) “needed to move on from Paramount” believing one studio could not provide the breadth of movies needed.

They said that not being associated with a specific studio means there is “freedom to work with brands who would not otherwise engage with a studio name over the door”.

Developers hope the resort will be open - without the Paramount branding - in 2022

Developers hope the resort will be open - without the Paramount branding - in 2022

The resort, set to be built on the Swanscombe Peninsula between Gravesend and Dartford, already has agreements to use the intellectual property of the BBC and Aardman Animations – the creators of Wallace and Gromit.

Confirming the Paramount split, LRCH chief executive Humphrey Percy said: “We want to express our sincere thanks to the many members of the Paramount team who have worked with us since we took over the project in August 2013.

“We are working closely with the local authorities, landowners and local community, as well as our other stakeholders, and we very much look forward to showing our plans to the public as part of our final stage of consultation prior to submitting later this year.

“We are creating a unique entertainment destination offering a scale and quality unprecedented in the UK where much-loved characters and stories will be brought to life from iconic movies, television, books, electronic gaming and toys.”

London Paramount chief executive Humphrey Percy

London Paramount chief executive Humphrey Percy

Resort spokesman Andy Martin agreed the development was a 'positive move', enabling the developers to work on a wider variety of attractions.

"We don't see it as a blow," he added.

The theme park plans have been financially backed by Dr Abdulla Al-Humaidi, the Kuwaiti chairman and owner of Ebbsfleet United Football Club, since 2013.

Accounts at Companies House show his company KEH has ploughed £35 million into the resort plans so far.

He has committed to fund the project through to the end of the planning stage, while LRCH bosses have been travelling the world drumming up potential investors.

Last week, bosses announced a deal with InterContinental Hotels Group to open a series of hotels at the site with 4,000 guest rooms.

Ebbsfleet United owner Dr Abdulla Al-Humaidi Picture Andy Payton

Ebbsfleet United owner Dr Abdulla Al-Humaidi Picture: Andy Payton

The park has been supported by 83% of people who have attended its public consultation events.

However, the Paramount resort plans have been beset by difficulties since the attraction was first put forward, with the promise of creating 27,000 jobs.

KentOnline revealed overnight that the plans were on the brink of collapse

Its opening date has been put back three times – currently scheduled for 2022 – as developers have grappled with the complexity of the planning process for such a large resort.

It has also faced opposition from many businesses and landowners who will be forced to move if the project is given the go-ahead by ministers under a special planning route known as a development consent order.

Reacting to the news, Jeremy Kite, leader of Dartford Borough Council, said: "This is an announcement about content. The deal with Paramount was restrictive.

The entertainment complex is expected to create 27,000 new jobs and another 6,000 during construction

The entertainment complex is expected to create 27,000 new jobs and another 6,000 during construction

"American corporations are very defensive of their brands and LRCH had always had the desire to have a range of concepts in their park.

"Paramount had been a break on that.

"The other big issue hasn't changed, which is how you welcome this to north Kent without causing problems for the infrastructure of north Kent."

David Turner, leader of Gravesham Borough Council, said: "I think they are in a stronger position than they were before.

"We are excited by the project and have been waiting for them to bring it forward for some time."
Dartford council leader Jeremy Kite

Dartford council leader Jeremy Kite

Paul Spooner, interim chief executive of Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, which is building a garden city, said the organisation had "worked closely" with the resort's developers and would "continue to keep a close eye on developments".

Jo James, chief executive of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, added: "It is pleasing to hear that the timescale for the planning application will not be set back.

"Discontinuing the relationship with Paramount Licensing should give London Resort Company Holdings great flexibility to provide a truly inspirational destination for our county.

"We will continue to work with them to provide maximum benefit for our businesses and wider community."

Dartford MP Gareth Johnson said: "LRCH have informed me of this change in approach.

MP Gareth Johnson has welcomed the announcement. Picture Simon Hildrew

Dartford MP Gareth Johnson. Picture: Simon Hildrew

"They clearly feel it will give them greater flexibility over who they work with on this project and the themes they will be able to offer.

"The main thing for me is not how the park is themed but how the local area will be able to cope with a large development of this nature.

"The jobs it would bring are very welcome but it has to be approached in the right way. 

"I am due to meet with the project team shortly to discuss all the key issues."

The financial terms of the split between LRCH and Paramount have not been made public.

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