Published: 09:19, 21 May 2013
A new river crossing at the Swanscombe Peninsula could scupper plans for a £2billion Paramount theme park and 28,000 jobs, a boss has warned today.
The Department for Transport has today unveiled three options for possible crossing locations - including one at Swanscombe.
The announcement by roads minister Stephen Hammond today follows extensive consultation and comes after years of talks about how to ease traffic at the Dartford Crossing.
He visited the Dartford Crossing to set out the three options for the location for a new crossing - which could cost up to £5billion:
Mr Hammond moved to address concerns about a threat to Paramount Park, saying the government would work with those behind the project.
He told KentOnline: "The government doesn't have a preferred route and I hope people will get involved with this consultation.
"Each of these routes has benefits and disbenefits - what we're saying is that by doing it this way we'll be able to do it more quickly.
"We will examine the evidence and in the autumn we will hopefully announce what route it is and then there will be some detailed modelling.
"Traffic over the next 20 years is likely to increase by 25% and that means we need another crossing.
"I don't have any concerns about Paramount Park. At the moment it's a line on the map and if that the route we choose we'll be working with the park to ensure it's fully compatible."
But Tony Sefton, head of London Resort Company Holdings, the project developer for Hollywood giant Paramount's planned resort, was taken aback by the suggestion the crossing could cut through Swanscombe.
He and a large planning team have been working up plans for the theme park on the 700-acre site.
Financial experts, including Chris Townsend who masterminded sponsorship of London 2012, have been in detailed talks with investors, many of them overseas.
Mr Sefton has had talks with the Prime Minister's office and other government departments and had given "fantastic" support.
"We have had introductions to investors from the Prime Minister's office," he said. "This is not brilliant timing for us. UK Plc is shooting itself in the foot."
"It could really scupper plans. We are in the final throes of negotiating a very large investment and this makes it very difficult."
It was vital for the government to be seen to be supporting the scheme, he added. "That's very important to overseas investors because we have a reputation in this country of not delivering.
"It's an uncomfortable position when we're saying yes the government is fully behind this and then you've got something like this coming at us.
"The new crossing is absolutely needed but to put this out there publicly will create a storm. It's not helpful when we are in major discussions with investors."
Mr Sefton was having meetings today with investors and they would "not be too impressed that a bridge and motorway might be coming through the site".
Kent and Essex County Councils have been in talks for years over how to ease congestion at the Dartford Crossing.
A Kent County Council-commissioned study in 2010 said the best way would be to bridge the Thames east of Gravesend, linking to the M11 near Stansted.
Ideas for a new Thames crossing have already been causing tension among local politicians.
Civil servants will only examine three options. The proposals were mooted four years ago and none is accepted by Gravesham or Dartford's council leaders.
It has been claimed Option A, a third crossing at Dartford, will not free up the bottleneck.
Option B, which runs from the A2 and across the Swanscombe peninsula, would scupper the Paramount theme park, a thought Gravesham council leader John Burden (Lab) called "irrational and stupid".
Option C would plough through Higham and Shorne over the water to West Tilbury, angering villagers and environmentalists.
Cllr Burden and Thurrock Council leader John Kent (Lab) say it is not necessary and that the toll gates should be opened before anything is considered.
Even Dartford Borough Council leader Jeremy Kite (Con), who says there should be a new crossing, admits there are tensions between him and the government.
Speaking last month, he said: "They're not what I would call one of the most responsible government departments, after the issues with the West Coast rail line.
"They tend to leap with both feet into these things and they don’t often have the preparation to back it up."
There is a variant on Option C, which involves widening the A229 at Blue Bell Hill, but otherwise little else has been mooted.
Engineering firm Aecom has spent a year preparing the plans.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England in Kent today branded any development of a new Thames crossing as "entirely premature".
It said new high-speed tolls at the Dartford Crossing will not be fully operational until 2014, road traffic has fallen recently and a new port in Essex could ease cargo demand.
Chairman Richard Knox-Johnston said: "We welcome the opportunity to use this consultation to make clear that plans for a new Lower Thames crossing are premature.
"Surely we need to examine the impacts of innovations such as high-speed tolling to the current crossing before considering a new road crossing."
Plans for the £2billion Paramount Park scheme on Swanscombe Peninsula were revealed late last year by the Hollywood giant, with the prospect of thousands of jobs at the Disney-style resort.
Set to be completed by 2019, it would be the third biggest theme park in the world and twice the size of the Olympic Park.
The Paramount scheme, supported by Paramount Pictures, aims to create Europe's largest indoor water park with theatres, live music venues, attractions, cinemas, restaurants, and hotels.