Consultation on Dartford Borough Council’s pre-submission version of its Local Plan closed today (Friday, April 9, 2021) and CPRE Kent feels this has been largely a positive example of Plan-making within the constraints of the planning system. By focusing development on well-connected brownfield sites within the town of Dartford and at Ebbsfleet Garden City, the Plan is essentially a genuine example of a brownfield-first strategy. Coupled with strong Green Belt protection policies and policies responding to the climate-change emergency, there is a lot to commend. Of course, there remains areas where things could be better. We have taken exception to the continued support of roadbuilding within a borough that has some the worst air quality in the South East and the council’s continued support for the Lower Thames Crossing. We have called on the authority to be bolder with measures to truly respond to our biodiversity crisis, along with further strengthening of active-travel measures. We were disappointed not to see a policy protecting intrinsically dark landscapes. We have reminded it about the implications of Natural England’s designation of Swanscombe Marshes and land to the south as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Overall, though, there was certainly as much good as there was bad. We now must just hope that this good work is not undone should the proposed London Resort theme park be consented.
The developer behind plans to build the country’s largest theme park in north Kent has applied to the government for consent to proceed. London Resort Company Holdings submitted its application for a Development Consent Order to the Planning Inspectorate on New Year’s Eve (Thursday, January 31, 2020). The scheme has been designated a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), the first ‘business or commercial project’ to be accepted as such by the government under the Planning Act 2008. The theme park is targeted for the Swanscombe peninsula, between Greenhithe and Northfleet, with opening anticipated for 2024 after a 2022 start date. It would cover more than 1,160 acres and LRCH says it would create “48,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs” by 2038. The project website states: “Sustainability is at the core of our vision. We are exploring new and innovative ways of integrating sustainable and low-carbon principles into every area of design and operation of the London Resort. Our aim is to create one of the most sustainable theme park destinations in the world.” It adds: “Our designs will integrate local public rights of way and a green network, with improved access to the river for visitors and local communities. The London Resort will showcase the natural features of the site, seamlessly integrating them into our designs. A large proportion of the peninsula landscape will remain undeveloped and will be enhanced.” However, there are widespread concerns both for people employed on the peninsula who might see their workplaces lost and for the area’s wildlife. Buglife has joined with other environmental campaigners to set up the Save Swanscombe Marshes campaign. To understand why the peninsula is so special, we will indeed turn to Buglife, which states: “The Swanscombe peninsula in north Kent is home to a remarkable mosaic of grasslands, coastal habitats, brownfield features, scrub and intricate wetlands. However, the proposed London Resort theme park threatens the future of this urban wilderness. “Known as Swanscombe Marshes, this urban wilderness is home to thousands of invertebrate species, including over 250 species of conservation concern. This outstanding assemblage is of national importance, ranking with our best invertebrate brownfield sites. “It is one of just two places in the UK for the Critically Endangered distinguished jumping spider (Attulus distinguendus), among the host of rare bees, beetles, moths and other invertebrates recorded there… the mixture of natural coastal features and human interference has created a brownfield of the highest quality for wildlife, as well as a valued community space for walking, birdwatching, angling and escaping the hustle and bustle of north Kent.” CPRE Kent intends to take part in the examination should it happen. It is too early to comment extensively, but an initial observation relates to the proposed Lower Thames Crossing, which does not appear to have been factored into plans – how would the two dovetail? The Planning Inspectorate now has until Thursday, January 28, to determine if the application is satisfactory and the project can proceed to examination. Should it get that far, the Secretary of State would then decide whether London Resort should be built.