Will Swanscombe’s £5bn London Resort plans ever get built?

People in London and Kent have been hearing about London Resort, the UK’s £5bn answer to Disneyland, for nine years, but what are the chances of the vision becoming reality.

Dubbed one of Europe’s most ambitious theme park projects ever, the plans have been enough to get thrill-seekers excited.

The park will be three times larger than any other in the UK when completed, bringing together a “thrilling global entertainment destination” full of Hollywood-themed rides, hotels, ferries, e-Sports facility and a Waterpark.

Since 2012 the proposed theme park has seen its fair share of bumps and hurdles, from sponsors pulling out, budget issues and most recently an environmental battle.

Now, nearly a decade after the first plans were put forward, will the London Resort even be built?

What is the London Resort?

The London Resort

The London Resort

London Resort Company Holdings say they are promising a “world class, sustainable, next generation entertainment resort on the bank of the River Thames.”

Specifically, the London Resort will be two twinned theme park sites, built on the largely brownfield former-industrial Swanscombe Marshes near Gravesend and Dartford and a short distance from London.

The site would be built across 535 acres of the north Kent site, the size of 136 Wembley Stadiums.

Thanks to a partnership with the BBC, ITV Studios and Paramount Pictures. the sprawling theme park will be home to attractions from films such as Mission Impossible and the Godfather as well as kids shows such as Thunderbirds.

Four new visuals were released earlier this year, hinting at the “next generation” rides and experiences visitors can expect to find.

Over 3,500 hotel rooms will be created and two ferry terminals – one each side of the River Thames – will be built, along with back-of-house facilities, a visitor centre and a new road from the A2.

According to the plans, around 70 per cent of the attractions will also be undercover, to cope with the unpredictable English weather.

The London Resort

The London Resort

Economically, the park promises to create 9,000 direct jobs and 20,000 indirect ones within the first year of opening, and nearly doubling after 15 years.

Possibly one of the UK’s largest single site employers, and could contribute up to £50bn of gross economic activity in the wider area.

Timeline

The latest planned opening date to pass by was Easter 2020, and was meant to originally open in 2019, but the project is now “very different” to what was last proposed in 2015.

Originally, Olympic Games legacy sites, Ashford and Cliffe on the Hoo Peninsula were among the areas considered before developers settled on Swanscombe.

The project was also the first to be declared a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP).

But the since 2012, the plans have been plagued by constant delays, sponsors pulling out and chalking upon millions of pounds in losses.

The current timeline has the first of the two theme parks to open its doors in 2024 and 2029.

The London Resort

The London Resort

The current cheif executive, PY Gerbeau, said in December 2020 that it has been “non-stop” ever since taking on the job 18-months prior.

The French entrepreneur is credited with saving the panned Millennium Dome project, now the O2 in Greenwich, and has recently recovered from coronavirus.

“We have revived, reviewed, and reprogrammed the entire venture. This will be so much more than just a theme park.”

What is noteworthy is that this vision for the London Resort has progressed further than any other plans so far.

On December 31, 2020, a planning application was formally submitted to Government and was accepted for review the week following.

The document contained over 25,000 reports, assessments and analysis, and marks new territory and new hope for those hoping to see the theme park come to life.

The Government, through its Planning Inspectorate agency, has a period of 28 days in which they write to the local authorities and, together, assess ‘adequacy’ on the consultation and carry out an evaluation of the application before they accept or reject the submission.

Bumps and barriers

The pathway since plans for the resort were first revealed have been far from smooth, with budget worries first plaguing the plans which struggled to get anything formal submitted.

Then sponsors began pulling out, and plans were redrawn.

As mentioned above however, the developers in charge now seem closer than their predecessors to starting construction work on the monster build.

The biggest barrier remaining now appears to be an environmental one.

Campaigners have long been strongly protesting against the London Resort, arguing that the plans “threaten the rich diversity of life” on the land.

The grasslands, wetlands and brownfield site known as Swanscombe Marshes is home to more rare and threatened species than any other brownfield site in the UK.

As well as abundant bees, butterflies, beetles, cuckoos and marsh lizards, the land is one of just two places in the UK where you can find the Critically Endangered Distinguished jumping spider (Attulus distinguendus).

“But all of this is now threatened by the proposed London Resort theme park,” argues the petition, set up by Buglife.

It is the rare jumping spider that seems most likely to throw a spanner in the works of theme park developers.

Attulus distinguendus (c) Roman Willi

Attulus distinguendus (c) Roman Willi

In February, a group called the Save Swanscombe Marshes campaign issued a joint statement requesting that Natural England declare the site a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

And in March, Natural England delivered a blow to the London Resort, declaring the ‘wildlife haven’ a SSSI.

The Government conservation agency Natural England also said the 250-hectare (620-acre) site, which lies between the M25 and Gravesend, is important green space for people as well as wildlife.

James Seymour, Sussex and Kent area manager for Natural England, said: “The designation of Swanscombe Peninsula as an SSSI is great news for one of the richest known sites in England for invertebrates, ensuring essential refuge for many rare and threatened species that sadly are not able to thrive in the wider landscape.

But PY Gerbeau said: “The project will of course continue, and this is just another issue to address in the long history of this project.”

He said the company had been surveying and monitoring the site since 2012 and was working closely with Natural England to identify the right ecological solutions to deliver the project.

He added: “Sustainability is a green thread throughout the London Resort proposals and we’re very proud of that.”

The resort’s developers also say a large proportion of the peninsula landscape will remain undeveloped, instead enhanced for wildlife with natural features seamlessly integrated into the theme park’s designs.

They say they are aiming to be one of the most sustainable, global destinations in the world, and could even run carbon neutrally.

Others, including local residents, have also raised concerns over traffic in the area, which is already heavily congested due to the Darford Crossing.

Those on both sides will be awaiting the decision regarding the planning application hopefully this month, but until then not a single brick will be laid.

The London Resort

The London Resort

So in reality, we don’t yet know if the £5bn mega-theme park will be built as planned, or remain a outlandish vision.

But it seems we are close, and we’ll be bringing you the news as soon as we have it.

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