Disneyland-style theme park developers not engaging with conservation groups, say NGOs

The developer behind the controversial London Resort theme park proposals has been accused of dragging its heels in engaging with conservation groups and providing the Planning Inspectorate with up-to-date environmental information.

In a submission to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) made earlier this year, the London Resort Company Holdings (LRCH) listed the conservation NGOs RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust, and Buglife, as groups to be consulted on a monthly basis.

However, the groups say they have not had any acknowledgement of this, writing to PINS that despite expressing “our willingness to meet with them” as early as April this year, “this was not facilitated”.

The London Resort is a theme park proposed on 216 hectares of land on the Swanscombe Peninsula in north Kent - a site notified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Natural England in March. LRCH is opposing the designation, which is currently under consultation. However, the legal protection afforded to SSSIs took effect immediately.

According to Kent Wildlife Trust, the theme park would destroy 76 hectares of priority habitat “which forms a vital part of the ecological network of the Thames Estuary”.

Mark Nowers, senior conservation officer at the RSPB, and who authored the letter to PINS on behalf of the NGOs, told ENDS that if the theme park is built it would be an “egregious loss” to wildlife and biodiversity. 

Nowers added that PINS itself appears to be getting “increasingly vexed” with LRCH, citing a recent letter the examining authority issued to the developer, in which it said it would be pushing the preliminary meeting for the proposal back to at least April 2022, due to not having “a detailed understanding of the applicant’s proposed consultations and updates”. 

The letter from PINS goes on to say that the examining authority has “decided to ask the applicant to provide a detailed explanation of whether all baseline information and all assessments in the Environmental Statement will be sufficiently current to form the basis of an examination that would start no earlier than April 2022”. 

It continues: “The examining authority (ExA) raised a similar question on 12 August 2021 and does not consider that the applicant’s response of 1 September 2021 clarified this matter for all baseline information, for all assessments, or in detail. The ExA notes that the applicant’s latest date for its submission of updated and new material would be more than 13 months after its application was submitted. There is a potential for delay and/or disruption to the examination if time-dependent information is out of date.”

The ExA also says it is “aware of the concerns expressed by some parties about the applicant’s engagement with them”, asking LRCH “to review whether it is consulting with all relevant parties, including those that are not statutory bodies, as it prepares its new and updated material” as there would be “likely benefits” to the examination if the developer could reach “a clear position with parties early in the process”.  

Andy Martin, director of communications and strategy at the LRCH said: “Every group that is now in opposition to the creation of 48,000 jobs, £50bn of gross economic activity, a third of which will go to local regions, and £150m investment into reversing the ecological decline that is currently happening, has been able to access all of our data and reports. 

“The work our experts have been undertaking is critical to not just understanding the complex habitats that exist, but more importantly, how to manage them because the habitats are in decline.”

He also said that much of the area earmarked for the theme park, “is contaminated”, and has been “left unmanaged with zero investment for decades and the habitats are returning to scrub at an alarming rate”.  

“We have committed to invest £150m on remediation, mitigation, habitat enhancement providing around eight miles of footpaths and public rights of way and substantial ecological compensation,” he said, concluding that LRCH has “also taken guidance from PINS, to comprehensively review and, in some cases revise, our proposals. While this doesn’t amend the baseline data, it does require time to effectively ‘revise and re-assess’ prior to a line-by-line engagement with statutory bodies.”