Published: 14:47, 05 February 2021
| Updated: 16:18, 05 February 2021
Relocating businesses to make way for a huge theme park dubbed the UK's answer to Disneyland could cost upwards of £250 million, it is claimed.
The 140 companies located on land London Resort Company Holdings (LRHC) says it needs to build its £2.5bn attraction face being forced to move.
Dozens of firms say jobs and livelihoods are at risk if the theme park – which advanced to the next stage of the planning process last week – goes ahead unless they are properly looked after.
LRHC is bidding to build the country's largest theme park on the Swanscombe Peninsula between Gravesend and Dartford but says it wants to avoid having to "rely on compulsory acquisition".
The Planning Inspectorate agreed to consider an application for a development consent order (DCO) and will now spend the next 18 months looking at the plans and holding public hearings into concerns affecting the surrounding area.
Part of the DCO inquiry will also consider whether to grant London Resort compulsory purchase powers for the land the application says will be required.
But the businesses located on industrial estates near the park face uncertain times and say they are not confident of surviving if LHRC's bid is successful and are yet to have been given enough assurance about their futures.
Dan Bramwell, representing the Swanscombe Peninsula Industrial Estates, says the amount is an estimated cost to ensure firms are properly compensated and fund finding them new homes.
Mr Bramwell said: "Some businesses will need to take two or three years because they need to get licenses because they deal with certain materials and need to find a suitable site.
"There's been no meaningful engagement with LHRC.
"These businesses have dealt with the 2008 recession, HS1, Brexit, the pandemic and now this. They've been dealt quite a punch."
He urged for local authorities to work together to help support companies and criticised comments made by Kent County Council's cabinet member for economic development, Cllr Mike Whiting, for failing to address concerns about existing businesses' futures.
"Authorities need to take the bull by the horns and say there's a problem and if we're looking to go forward with it [the park], we need to help those businesses and set up a co-ordinated group and start working together to find a suitable site," Mr Bramwell said.
"Some businesses will need to take two or three years. We need to help businesses..."
"LHRC will have to pay for it, it's not public money. Businesses have to be reassured they have a future."
A compensation package will have to take in a range of considerations from site purchase costs, remediation of potentially contaminated land, securing new land for existing businesses and relocation costs.
Moving machinery for some firms will require specialist help and time to set up on a new site.
Mr Bramwell says there will also be the additional costs of seeking new licenses from the Environment Agency for new sites which can be more difficult to acquire and therefore lead to business disruption costs.
Some businesses may even be forced to shut up shop entirely leading to compensation claims.
Mr Bramwell said some 200 parties – businesses and landowners – are involved in the land acquisition deals.
The companies have welcomed concerns raised by Dartford and Gravesham councils, Ebbsfleet Development Corporation and KCC during the latest consultation phase regarding the impact to businesses.
He added it was important leader of Dartford council Cllr Jeremy Kite had recognised the need for businesses to be "treated fairly".
Fears 80 more businesses will be affected have been raised after additional land was outlined in the DCO application compared to documents submitted when the scheme was given status as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project back in 2014.
Mr Bramwell claimed LHRC has been deceiving planners by "misrepresenting the description of the site" and referring to it as a "mainly post industrial" and "largely derelict".
The group of businesses is now considering whether to take legal action about the whether the DCO scoping application was passed lawfully.
Resort bosses say three public consultations have reached out to more than 120,000 people after sending out 105,000 leaflets across Gravesham, Dartford and Thurrock.
LHRC says it has spoken with or contacted 11,000 businesses and interested parties.
"Any and all complaints or queries about the process of the application be made to the Planning Inspectorate..."
Spokesman Daniel Cohen said: "We have courted feedback and engagement throughout the entire process and all of this plus more was included in our application sent to the Planning Inspectorate.
"The inspectorate reviewed our application and more than 50 additional documents provided by interested parties including those relating to boundary disputes and site misrepresentations. Having reviewed everything, the Planning Inspectorate concluded that our application met the standards required to be accepted for examination.
"We would suggest that any and all complaints or queries about the process of the application be made to the Planning Inspectorate."
They added it was going further than guidelines covered in the Compensation Code for businesses affected by proposed development.
Mr Cohen added: ""Unlike other schemes, LRCH is going further still by offering an additional sum in order to cover areas of loss which are more difficult to evidence and in recognition of the situation faced by potential claimants.
"The enhanced offer proposed by LRCH, which offers a 30% premium, is intended to preclude LRCH having to rely on compulsory acquisition powers and is the result of meaningful engagement with affected parties since the 2015 public consultation.”
Conservationists are waiting for the outcome of an application to the government agency tasked with protecting Britain's green spaces over whether to grant extended protection to the Peninsula.
Natural England is due to rule on whether to designate the area as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) thanks largely due to the unique landscape and endangered species such as the jumping spider located on the site.