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Plans for £2.5bn London Resort theme park project billed as Kent's answer to Disneyland withdrawn over Tilbury ferry terminal and environmental issues

Plans to build a multi-billion pound theme park to rival Disneyland on parts of a protected nature site have been withdrawn.

The London Resort has been earmarked for the Swanscombe Peninsula, along the banks of the River Thames between Dartford and Gravesend, for the last ten years.

Developers have been proposing to build a world class entertainment and leisure destination to compete with the likes of Disneyland Paris and UK-based rivals on the 1,245 acre site.

But the £2.5bn project has been hit with numerous delays and concerns have been raised over its credentials by the local MP, residents and businesses.

A virtual planning meeting was due to take place this morning to consider when the bid should be assessed.

But ahead of crunch talks, the company's chief executive PY Gerbeau announced they would be withdrawing their application due to transport and environmental issues. The meeting has since been cancelled.

Mr Gerbeau said: “In the best interests of the London Resort, we are withdrawing the current application as a result of the classification of Tilbury as a Freeport which has meant revisions are required in moving the ferry terminal from Tilbury to Grays.

The London Resort has been earmarked for the Swanscombe Peninsula. Picture: EDF Energy
The London Resort has been earmarked for the Swanscombe Peninsula. Picture: EDF Energy

"We are working closely and collaborating with Thurrock Council on that matter. "

The French entrepreneur added: “This issue, combined with the decision by Natural England to designate a brownfield contaminated site as a SSSI has impacted the project.

"We in turn have acquired significant land holdings as part of our mitigation strategy combined with our commitment to spend £150m on environmental improvements on the peninsula. These changes are considered material and as such require withdrawal and resubmission."

But Mr Gerbeau said bosses were still committed to the project and would look to resubmit their bid towards the end of the year.

“We have repeatedly petitioned for latitude, extensions of time and of course understanding from the Examining Authority and the Planning Inspectorate," he added.

"Their teams have been extremely supportive, but we recognise that the best route for the Project is through withdrawal and resubmission of a fresh DCO application within this calendar year.

PY Gerbeau
PY Gerbeau

“We will continue our engagement with the local community, statutory bodies, landowners and others to make sure we can reach as many agreements as possible before resubmission.

"Make no mistake we are still 100% committed to this amazing project and we will resubmit before the end of 2022 and look forward to delivering a world class entertainment resort – the UK deserves better and we will make it happen!”

The withdrawal comes after the brownfield site was given added protection following its designation by Natural England as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) owing to its rich abundance of wildlife, including water voles, otters, birds and even a rare spider species.

Today's Planning Inspectorate meeting – the body tasked with reviewing the bid – was intended to confirm the start date for a six-month inquiry process.

The applicant had requested this be put back from September of last year until June/July 2022 in light of the SSSI status.

It was granted an initial delay on the basis the time be used to fine-tune the bid and address concerns – but today's meeting was ordered by the Inspectorate after it heard representations from business owners and environmental groups complaining of a continued lack of engagement.

Campaigners came together to protest against plans to build a theme park on the Swanscombe Marshes. Photo: Save Swanscombe Peninsula.
Campaigners came together to protest against plans to build a theme park on the Swanscombe Marshes. Photo: Save Swanscombe Peninsula.

Reacting to news of the withdrawal, Dartford Green Party councillor Laura Edie, said: "I am absolutely overjoyed by this news and proud to have helped lead this grassroots campaign.

"Save Swanscombe Peninsula have fought tirelessly to protect this nature haven and this success has shown how powerful it can be when a community comes together and unifies against a billionaire corporation.

"I want to say a huge thank you to the wonderful campaigners, charities, and both Jeremy Kite and Gareth Johnson for supporting this campaign and standing up for the local residents, businesses and wildlife along here and protecting it for generations to come."

Until recently both BBC and ITV's studio arms had lent image rights which would have seen rides named after hit brands such as Thunderbirds and Sherlock Holmes.

But both have now pulled the plug on their involvement.

Dartford MP Gareth Johnson outlines his alternative vision for the site

Dartford MP Gareth Johnson had also recently withdrawn his support, explaining he had "run out of patience" amid ongoing concerns over transport, pressure on local businesses and a lack of engagement from LRCH.

Reacting to the announcement, Mr Johnson said: "As far as I am concerned, this is the end of the project.

"After ten years, LRCH are still unable to submit an application for a theme park and they need to end the uncertainty for local businesses and residents by walking away completely.

"Thankfully, the SSSI status of the area and the nature of the land makes it highly unlikely that many houses can be built there so we now need to secure the future of the peninsular as a wildlife park for local residents to enjoy."

Outlining an alternative vision for the site last week, he added: "I think that we can turn this into a local asset not just for people today but for future generations as well.

The Swanscombe Marshes are home to various critical bug and bird species. Picture: Daniel Greenwood
The Swanscombe Marshes are home to various critical bug and bird species. Picture: Daniel Greenwood

"We can ensure that it is opened up so that local people can enjoy that for walks, for wildlife, just for local school children to learn and understand about the importance of local wildlife."

Asked what level of investment would be needed the, Tory minister believed a "small, modest amount" from central government, adding this would not be an "unrealistic aspiration".

But Gravesham council, which had supported the bid "in principle", welcomed the developer's intention to revisit the proposals.

Cllr John Burden (Lab), the leader of the council, said it was a "sensible move" in light of the classification of Tilbury as a Freeport and the SSSI designation.

He said: “I welcome the decision to take a fresh look at the plans for London Resort and to come back with a new proposal that addresses all the issues raised by those developments.

“I maintain that a balanced view needs to be adopted of London Resort, weighing the environmental and other concerns against the huge economic benefits such a development would bring to an area of the country that desperately needs the new jobs and opportunities that would come with it.

'As far as I am concerned, this is the end of the project.' Dartford MP Gareth Johnson

“I await the new submission with interest.”

Laura Blake, chairman of the Thames Crossing Action Group said: "We like many have had serious concerns over the proposed London Resort. There was no way we could have supported London Resort whilst opposing the Lower Thames Crossing, it would have just been too hypocritical.

"The reasons to object to both projects are just too similar, including how hugely destructive and harmful they would be, the traffic and congestion issues they would inflict, and the negative impacts to businesses, communities, and people's lives, health and well-being.

"We are delighted by this latest news, and hope that London Resort will come to their senses and not even attempt to resubmit their plans again, as there is no way the theme park should go ahead on the Swanscombe Peninsula or anywhere else round here.

"Huge thanks and well done to Save Swanscombe Peninsula SSSI and everyone else who has been fighting so hard. Together we are stronger."

Is it really all over? KMTV reports

Campaigner Dan Bramwell from the Peninsula Management Group which represents some 200 businesses in the area affected by the proposals, said: "The application withdrawal is an absolute humiliation for LRCH. It was evident in January 2021 that there were very significant gaps in the supporting documentation, as later admitted by LRCH, yet the application was accepted for examination - why?

"The last 15 months has been a waste of civil servant's time and a heavy cost to taxpayers, let alone all the stakeholders, interested and affected parties, and many hundreds of people who have devoted time to challenging the incomplete and weak proposals.

"In addition, the many Swanscombe Peninsular businesses have suffered 10 years of unnecessary financial stress, mental pain and job losses as a result of this fairytale dream.

"The applicant should be forced to reimburse all affected parties for the time wasted addressing the harassment.

"Furthermore, the Secretary of State needs to urgently review the reasons why this project was given NSIP [nationally significant infrastructure project] status – it is neither infrastructure nor nationally significant."

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