Published: 19:02, 01 March 2021
| Updated: 19:07, 01 March 2021
Cruise ships could be used to house thousands of construction workers needed to build the UK's largest theme park in Kent.
London Resort bosses are considering plans to hire two vessels, which would be docked in the River Thames at Tilbury in Essex, to accommodate workers during the six-year build of the £2.5bn park on the Swanscombe Peninsula.
The mammoth workforce is expected to create "excessive pressure" on temporary accommodation and increase housing demand in Gravesham, Dartford and Thurrock with up to 50% of workers expected to come from out of the areas.
London Resort Company Holdings (LRCH), the company behind the theme park dubbed Britain's Disneyland, says it has been approached already by several ferry and cruise companies offering to lease or sell ships and is seriously considering the plan.
A spokesman for LRCH confirmed to KentOnline the idea will be considered by the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) as part of the decision on whether to allow the application for a Development Consent Order (DCO).
Work could start as soon as 2022 if the DCO is approved on schedule with LRCH saying the site could open as soon as 2024.
Documents submitted to inspectors reveal London Resort bosses prefer "a combination of the cruise ship and mobile homes on-site to meet the demand of the temporary non-home based workers".
It is proposed accommodation would be provided at market rates and would help "mitigate negative impacts on the local constrained accommodation market".
Workers would then be ferried between the ships across the Thames to the construction site before and after shifts.
But while it would provide "huge relief", resort bosses concede the "potentially unsightly nature" of the ships which would also reduce the knock-on local economic benefits due to "activity being contained on board".
The first phase of the development would provide an average of 6,600 jobs per year split between on-site construction and off-site jobs. Meanwhile, the second phase is expected to support 2,300 jobs per year and be completed in 2029.
Unions have been quick to call for a full consultation on the plans to ensure any proposed workers' accommodation meets standards.
Jerry Swain, Unite's national officer for construction, warned everything needed to be done in order to avoid the liners becoming "prison ships".
He said: "“It is essential that those concerned in the project enter into negotiations with Unite, to provide guarantees on not just the price of accommodation but the cost and quality of the food provided, as workers will have no access to their own cooking facilities.
“Workers are human beings and in order to protect their mental wellbeing it is essential that they are able to freely leave the ship and visit the local community.
“There also needs to be guarantees about the quality of the accommodation throughout the life of the development. At the moment due to Covid-19 there is a huge surplus of cruise ships but when that market recovers, it would be immoral to force workers into clapped out hulks.
“If these concerns are not addressed then the most skilled workers will vote with their feet, they will either look for work elsewhere, or become demotivated which will greatly damage productivity, creating delays.”
LRCH estimates 2,500 will be "non-home workers" and will require temporary accommodation at the height of construction during the first phase – equal to between 25% and 50%.
The remaining 50-75% deemed "home workers" are likely to commute from within 60 minutes, a report sent to planning inspectors shows.
It adds a cruise ship is likely to have capacity for up to 2,000 workers on board with "room for a second ship if required".
The LRCH report suggests just 75 out of a possible 3,000 temporary accommodation rooms – such as hotels, B&Bs and campsites – would be affordable for construction workers.
It also suggests combined with demands due to other ongoing major projects during the same timeframe – Lower Thames Crossing, A2 improvements at Bean and various housing projects – there could be up to 3,100 workers in 2023 falling to 1,100 in 2028.
The PINS examination of the London Resort application is expected to last between 12 and 18 months after it was accepted for examination at the end of January.
Environment groups opposed to the development are waiting to hear the outcome of whether Natural England will grant part of the development area status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which would impose strict development restrictions.
Campaigners are fighting to protect the Swanscombe Marshes, one of only two places in the country home to the endangered jumping spider and a host of other species of flora and fauna.