Plans to build a £2bn Disney-style theme park in Kent have moved a step closer after gaining special government status today.
A public consultation on Paramount Park is expected to begin in just months after it was dubbed a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) by the communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles.
The move means the project is on track to open in the first half of 2019, creating 27,000 jobs on an 872-acre site on the Swanscombe Peninsula.
A planning application is expected to be submitted next year, but this development means the consortium behind the project – London Resort Company Holdings (LRCH) – will be able to apply directly to the Secretary of State for planning permission, rather than the usual route via local authorities.
In his letter to the firm, Mr Pickles said the project is "likely to have significant economic impact... on an area wider than a single local authority".
The move has the support of Dartford Borough Council, Gravesham Borough Council and Kent County Council.
London Resort Company Holdings director Fenlon Dunphy said: "We welcome the decision. It reflects the unique economic and regenerative opportunity provided by this multi-billion pound project, which will employ thousands of people and be a huge additional offering to the UK’s entertainment and tourism industries.
"It also allows us to deal concurrently with all the planning and regulatory requirements, therefore providing greater certainty over the planning and regulatory timeline for the project, which will help us to meet our objective of opening the resort in the first half of 2019.
"Now that we have received this confirmation [from the government], in the coming months we intend to launch a formal programme of pre-application consultation with the North Kent community and all relevant national and regional stakeholders.
"This programme of engagement will continue through to the first half of 2015, at which point we expect to submit a planning application to the Planning Inspectorate."
The NSIP status for Paramount was made possible after changes to rules on significant infrastructure projects earlier this year, opening it to major leisure schemes, sports stadia and business initiatives.
Paramount is the first business or commercial project to earn the status.
Dartford council leader Cllr Jeremy Kite said: "The London Paramount project is a key part of local regeneration ambitions and fits perfectly with the wider vision emerging for the area.
"This is great news and I am delighted that local people will have the opportunity to play their part in the design and evolution of the entertainment resort when LRCH starts its formal consultation later this year."
Gravesham council leader Cllr John Burden said: "This latest announcement is great news for the north Kent community.
"The proposal would be likely to have significant economic impact, be important in driving growth in the economy, and would also have an impact on an area wider than a single local authority..." - communities secretary Eric Pickles
"It moves us one step closer towards delivering the significant economic and employment benefits associated with this potentially iconic entertainment destination."
Kent County Council leader Cllr Paul Carter said: "London Paramount is a transformative project that could generate significant inward investment across Kent.
"Kent County Council will continue to work with LRCH and the relevant borough councils over the coming months to ensure that the region maximises this unique development opportunity."
The letter issued to London Resort Company Holdings by the Department of Communities and Local Government said: "The secretary of state considers that the proposal would be likely to have significant economic impact, be important in driving growth in the economy, and that it would also have an impact on an area wider than a single local authority area.
"The secretary of state also considers that the substantial physical size of the proposal is relevant to his decision that this project is of national significance."