Published: 20:39, 20 September 2021
| Updated: 21:12, 20 September 2021
The start date of the formal planning examination to decide whether a £2.5bn theme park in Kent should go ahead has been delayed once again.
The six-month inquiry to determine the application for the London Resort on the Swanscombe Peninsula was anticipated to start this month.
But the beginning date has now been pencilled in by planning inspectors to launch in April – more than 13 months after the plans submitted at the start of this year were accepted for review.
It follows discussions between London Resort Company Holdings (LRCH) – the company behind the theme park plans – and the Planning Inspectorate which suggested further information would need to be submitted for the examination to progress.
Doubts have also been cast as to whether material provided by LRCH will be "sufficiently current" for the examination to begin next spring.
In a letter published this week, lead inspector Stuart Cowperthwaite said the panel did not yet "have a detailed understanding of the applicant’s proposed consultations and updates".
Mr Cowperthwaite added the panel said it could not decide when to begin the examination "before it has seen the applicant's submissions".
A decision is expected to be taken in March with a view to holding the first public meeting in April 2022.
Concerns have also been raised about whether LRCH has been consulting with enough parties in preparing its latest submissions to the bank of documents and planning material.
Mr Cowperthwaite asked the company to carry out a review to ensure "all relevant parties, including those not statutory bodies" are engaged.
He added: "There are likely to be benefits to the examination if the applicant can reach a clear position with parties early in the process, identifying what is agreed and what is not agreed."
A detailed explanation about "whether all baseline information and all assessments" in environmental impact statements will be relevant by the time the examination begins has also been demanded by the Planning Inspectorate.
The letter from Mr Cowperthwaite added: "The Examining Authority (ExA) raised a similar question on August 12, 2021 and does not consider that the applicant’s response of September 1, 2021 clarified this matter for all baseline information, for all assessments, or in detail.
"The ExA notes that the applicant’s latest date for its submission of updated and new material would be more that 13 months after its application was submitted.
"There is a potential for delay and/or disruption to the examination if time-dependant information is out of date."
LRCH was granted a six-month extension to prepare further documents to address new rules after the Swanscombe Marshes, which form part of the park site, after it was granted SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) by Natural England earlier this year. The designation is being challenged by LRCH.
Responding to the latest delay, Andy Martin, strategy and communications director for London Resort, said: "Giving the UK its first, next-generation theme park and building it from scratch continues to be our goal and we are on-track to deliver it.
“Critically, it will also be one of the first operationally carbon neutral parks and a beacon of sustainability.
"It is only right that the necessary time is taken to work through, what is a very complex and multifaceted project and we will continue to work with the Planning Inspectorate on turning our vision into reality.”
The setback comes after London Resort bosses revealed 2,000 businesses had signed up to help build the park dubbed Britain's answer to Disneyland.
Business owners say the progress of the theme park and impact to their company is like "being on death row" amid uncertainty which could see hundreds of firms being "turfed out".