Published: 19:35, 19 August 2020
| Updated: 19:42, 19 August 2020
Councils and business leaders have called for greater clarity on the nature of a new Euro-Disney style entertainment resort amid concerns for its impact on the local landscape.
First announced in 2012, the resort has been subject to numerous delays and setbacks in what has proven already to be a rollercoaster ride – but it has since reignited proposals as its "largely digital" consultation gets underway .
In June, the plans edged one step closer as developers submitted their scoping report for consideration to the Planning Inspectorate, who will have the final say.
But both Dartford and Gravesham councils have raised serious concerns regarding the "lack of detail" and the proposed timescales for the project.
These initial observations were submitted in a series of letters sent to the Secretary of State and published as part of its scoping opinion last month.
Dartford council noted the scoping report represented an "initial stage" and said their comments had been provided to assist the developers on "some of the more localised issues".
It responded:"The council is concerned, about the lack of detail in some of the scoping report chapters.
"There is also, the council feels, a need to provide more detailed parameters with regard to the location and nature of some of the development proposed, given the scale and variety of this project."
Other issues identified included the impact on local town centres, existing theatres, and the increased frequency of bus services in quieter suburbs such as Ingress Park in Greenhithe .
The scoping report also details just three of the 11 local wildlife sites within 2km of the site for consideration, it added.
It comes after wildlife group Buglife, last week launched a campaign to 'Save Swanscombe Marshes' and its thousands of invertebrate species, some of which it notes are "of conservation concern".
Red flags were also raised over the displacement of existing industrial businesses on the brownfield site.
Dan Bramwell of the Peninsula Management Group – which represents over 100 businesses and landowners on the Swanscombe Peninsula – said they were yet to hear directly from the theme park bosses.
He said: "As far as all the parties on the industrial estates are concerned, there has been very little progress made in addressing the future needs of the businesses or negotiating with landowners.
"It is now well over two years since there was last any meaningful dialogue between London Resort and Peninsula Management Group, contrary to what the developer says."
The director added many of the businesses operating on the estate would need to obtain specific licences to relocate elsewhere and claimed this process can take up to two years.
"It appears the entire process of engagement and negotiations with the businesses is a total shambles," he added.
Mr Bramwell said he found the lack of engagement alarming but added he felt it was "not surprising" as he claimed London Resort bosses had failed to even acknowledge them in the scoping report.
This point was noted by the Ebbsfleet Development Company, the planning authority behind garden city plans for 15,000 homes next door to the project.
In its own letter to the Secretary of State the EDC said: “In general there is little description or acknowledgement that there are significant numbers of existing industrial businesses that will presumably have to be moved or jobs and business lost, ie displaced."
It told KentOnline it will submit its formal response to the consultation shortly.
But London Resort has insisted it is still in discussion with local businesses with a view to identifying their land and property requirements.
It added while these talks are confidential it could reveal a range of options are under consideration, all with a view to retaining jobs locally.
The London Resort project is the first "business or commercial project" to be earmarked as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP).
Such major projects hold special status which allows them to bypass local planning requirements but they must obtain a development consent order (DCO) from the government to commence work.
A spokesperson said: "The Development Consent Order application for the London Resort will be akin to an outline planning application, in which some details are reserved for subsequent approval.
"These will include the rides and attractions inside the two theme park ‘Gates’ in the Resort.
"Once the Development Consent Order for the London Resort is granted, approval will be sought from the relevant local planning authority for the detailed design."
It added this was "a common approach for major projects" of this kind.
With regards to the scoping report concerns noted by the Secretary of State, the developers were keen to stress this was an essential part of the process.
London Resort says the preliminary environmental information report submitted a month later represents a "significant step forward" from the scoping report.
It explained the purpose of requesting an updated scoping opinion was to "make doubly sure" the environmental information it submits alongside its planning bid later this year recognised and addressed those points.
As regards conservation concerns over wildlife, London Resort have said they would create new habitats and promote and protect access to existing sites.
On the exclusion of certain sites from their plans they responded: "Wildlife sites may be excluded from the assessment if assessment work suggests that no significant effects would be felt at a local wildlife site as a result of the Resort development."
Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, who is leading the project, claims the park will create "8,000 jobs from day one" with the park predicting it could generate in the region of 27,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Often billed as "Britain's answer to Disneyland" the £5 billion entertainment resort is predicting to bring in 6.5 million visitors per year initially with footfall doubling to 12.5 million visitors when its second gate opens around 2029.
There will be themed rides and attractions across both sites with "West End" level entertainment, e-sports, a water park, and conference and convention venues.
Its retail offering will be built around these attractions, it added, rather than providing competition with town centres or outlets such as Bluewater and Lakeside.
The public consultation got underway last month and more than 500 people have either signed up or experienced one of London Resort's webinars as of last week, according to the developer's social media feed.
Its popularity among some thrill-seekers has led to the creation of a growing fan club on social media with membership fast approaching 1000.
Known as the London Resort Fan Group, it provides a place for theme park fanatics to express their observations and share their hopes for the attractions.
The consultation will end on September 21 with a DCO/planning application to be submitted by the end of the year. The government is then expected to respond in 2021.
Click here to view and have your say on the proposals.