Examination of a developer’s bid for consent to build the country’s largest theme park has been stalled again. The scheme entails the construction of the London Resort park at Swanscombe, between Dartford and Gravesend. The Planning Inspectorate’s six-month examination of the application by London Resort Company Holdings had been anticipated to begin in September, but in July the inspectorate advised that “The ExA [examining authority] does not have a detailed understanding of the Applicant’s proposed consultations and updates” before stating that the process was not going to begin until the second half of January next year – at the earliest. Now it has been delayed again because LRCH has failed to produce all the documents required by the inspectorate; the preliminary meeting is “unlikely to be held before April 2022”. Further, the inspectorate seems unconvinced that LRCH has consulted enough parties in preparing its submissions, while it’s not clear if the developer’s evidence will even be up to date by the time the examination eventually starts.
The proposed London Resort theme park has largely disappeared from the radar in recent months, so it is timely to give an update on proceedings. In January this year the Planning Inspectorate declared that it was accepting the application by London Resort Company Holdings for a Development Consent Order to build the park. A six-month examination of the project, in which CPRE Kent will take part, had been expected to begin two to four months from that point. Good news for the peninsula, its wildlife and the local people for whom it is a critical area for recreation, but there would be a four-month consultation before potential SSSI confirmation. Far from it, however! LRCH chose instead to plough on with its project, although saying it would be changing its plans after the SSSI designation. It was granted an extra four months to submit revised documents in its DCO bid, meaning the examination would most likely begin in September. However… in July this year the Planning Inspectorate advised that “The ExA [examining authority] does not have a detailed understanding of the Applicant’s proposed consultations and updates. Having considered the information available to date, the ExA is minded not to decide on the date(s) of the PM [preliminary meeting] before it has seen the Applicant’s submissions. On that basis the ExA anticipates that it will be unable to decide on the date(s) of the PM before mid-December 2021 and that therefore a PM is unlikely to be held before mid-January 2022.” Or, in other words, examination of the London Resort is not going to begin until the second half of January next year – at the earliest.
The granting of a Development Consent Order allowing developer RiverOak Strategic Partners to reopen Manston as a freight hub has been quashed. The Department for Transport had already accepted that the DCO approval letter from Andrew Stephenson, Minister of State for Transport, did not contain enough detail on why the conclusions of the four-man Planning Inspectorate’s Examining Authority were effectively dismissed. And today (Tuesday, February 15), the department agreed to a High Court Consent Order stating the minister had indeed not laid out adequate reasons explaining his decision to go against the advice of the inspectors. The Examining Authority had been clear that the DCO should not be granted. The revocation of the DCO meant a judicial review of Mr Stephenson’s decision scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, February 16-17, at the High Court did not go ahead. The review had been launched by Jenny Dawes, chair of Ramsgate Coastal Community Team. However, on Wednesday, December 2, she wrote on her CrowdJustice page set up to help fund the judicial review: “… yesterday my solicitors received a letter from the Treasury Solicitor, acting on behalf of the Secretary of State for Transport, which said ‘my client has agreed to concede this claim on the basis of ground 1(b), namely that the Secretary of State did not give adequate reasons in his decision letter to enable the reader to understand why he disagreed with the Examining Authority Report on the issue of need for the development of Manston Airport’. “We subsequently learned that the Interested Party, RiverOak Strategic Partners Ltd, will not be defending their claim.” With neither the DfT nor RiverOak contesting proceedings, the High Court judgment was short. It did, though, result in the government being ordered to pay Mrs Dawes’s legal costs of up to £35,000; RSP was ordered to pay additional costs, again capped at £35,000. A statement from RSP said: “In the High Court today, Mr Justice Holgate approved a court order which had been agreed by all the parties to the Manston judicial review in December last year. “The order allows the judicial review on the ground that the Secretary of State for Transport did not give adequate reasons for his decision. It also quashes the Manston DCO and orders costs in favour of the Applicant. “The effect of the order made today is only to require the decision to be re-taken following a further representation period, it does not reverse any earlier stages of the process. The Secretary of State is likely to explain the reasons for his decision in more detail this time round.”
Plans to build a huge theme park on the Thames estuary have passed their first hurdle. The Planning Inspectorate has accepted the application for a Development Consent Order to build the London Resort theme park between Greenhithe and Northfleet. This means the project, submitted by London Resort Company Holdings on New Year’s Eve and received by the Planning Inspectorate on Monday, January 4, can proceed to examination. The decision to accept the 25,000-page application was announced in a Planning Inspectorate letter dated Thursday, January 28. The project, targeted for the wildlife-rich Swanscombe peninsula, has been roundly condemned by conservation groups including the RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust and Buglife. There is also widespread concern about the scheme being 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. It is feared such status means it will not be subject to the same scrutiny that would be applied through the regular planning process. The examination, in which CPRE Kent intends to take part, is expected to begin two to four months from now and must be completed within six months of the start-point. Although it is too early to comment extensively, it is apparent that plenty of work needs to be done in relation to transport. The Lower Thames Crossing proposed for nearby does not appear to have been factored into the plans, while the developer will need to show how it can take people to and from the site on the existing transport network. Once the six-month examination has been completed, the final decision on the project will be made by Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
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.
Well, it was never going to go smoothly, was it! The granting of a Development Consent Order allowing developer RiverOak Strategic Partners to reopen Manston airport as a freight hub is to be quashed. The Department for Transport has accepted that the DCO approval letter from Andrew Stephenson, Minister of State for Transport, did not contain enough detail on why the conclusions of the four-man Planning Inspectorate’s Examining Authority were effectively dismissed. The Examining Authority had been clear that the DCO should not be granted. It is understood that its approval will be quashed within three weeks, with a revised decision needed after the Planning Inspectorate evidence is re-examined. The likely revocation of the DCO means a judicial review of Mr Stephenson’s decision scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, February 16-17, at the High Court will not now go ahead. The review had been launched by Jenny Dawes, chair of Ramsgate Coastal Community Team. However, on Wednesday last week (December 2), she wrote on her CrowdJustice page set up to help fund the judicial review: “… yesterday my solicitors received a letter from the Treasury Solicitor, acting on behalf of the Secretary of State for Transport, which said ‘my client has agreed to concede this claim on the basis of ground 1(b), namely that the Secretary of State did not give adequate reasons in his decision letter to enable the reader to understand why he disagreed with the Examining Authority Report on the issue of need for the development of Manston Airport’. “We subsequently learned that the Interested Party, RiverOak Strategic Partners Ltd, will not be defending their claim. “My lawyers set out three grounds of challenge to the decision to grant a Development Consent Order for the re-opening and development of Manston Airport: Ground 1: Need Ground 2: Breach of Procedural Requirement/Unfairness Ground 3: Net Zero Duty” Two days later, Friday (December 4), Ms Dawes added: “Following the quashing of the Manston Airport Development Consent Order 2020 by the Court, the Secretary of State will write to all interested parties, setting out key issues and inviting further written representations on those issues. “Interested parties include the applicant, the local authority and anyone who previously registered by filling out a Relevant Representation form at the inquiry stage (and had it accepted as valid). “The Secretary of State will make a decision based on the Examining Authority’s Report and the further representations. The Secretary of State has three months to make a decision but this can be extended. “The decision could be either a refusal to make a Manston Airport Development Consent Order or a decision to grant such a Consent Order. “If a DCO is refused, RSP may wish to bring a judicial review. I would be an Interested Party in any such challenge. “If a DCO is granted, another judicial review can be brought on the existing grounds and any further grounds that may arise on review of the decision letter. “Any money left over from the current CrowdJustice campaign can be held in readiness and used towards a second judicial review.” At the time of writing, that campaign had seen more than £88,000 pledged towards the initial review. Responding in July to the news of the DCO approval, Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, had said: “It is shocking that four inspectors spent some nine months preparing a report and concluded very strongly that the DCO should be refused. “The developer was not able to demonstrate need, there were adverse impacts on traffic and transport and there were concerns over noise pollution. “Most importantly, though, the Examining Authority recommended the Secretary of State refuse the DCO due to conservation of habitats and species regulations. “In short, the inspectors’ conclusions were ignored. “This decision flies in the face of the Heathrow third-runway judgement where the Court of Appeal ruled that proposals had failed to consider this country’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions.” Although the Manston decision had to be made in the name of Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, the DfT said Mr Shapps had “not personally been involved in this decision because of a conflict of interest, following previous statements of support made prior to his appointment as the Secretary of State for Transport” and the decision had “in practice been allocated to and taken by the Minister of State for Transport, Andrew Stephenson”.
We reported last week that Highways England had withdrawn its application for a Development Consent Order to build the Lower Thames Crossing. Now we have been updated by HE on the issues relating to the Planning Inspectorate and the likely way forward. A message to stakeholders said: “… we’ve now had further dialogue with the Planning Inspectorate about their expectations around our application. “The fundamentals of the Lower Thames Crossing, including its objectives and location, will remain the same but we will further develop some technical information related to some elements of the scheme before we resubmit our application next year. “The feedback from the Planning Inspectorate includes requests for: “Further information on the impact of the project on traffic during the construction phase. We recognise that stakeholders are keen to find out more information about our construction traffic appraisals and will be engaging with them on these issues. “Further assessments about how an existing jetty on the River Thames near the northern tunnel entrance construction site could potentially be used during the construction phase. The operation of the jetty could, if used, impact river traffic. We will be developing Navigational Impact Assessment and engaging with stakeholders on this topic. “More details on our approach for managing materials and waste, including how the different contractors will coordinate the reusing, recycling or disposal of waste. “An enhanced Habitats Regulations Assessment to provide a more detailed explanation of our approach to assessment of potential effects on European designated sites where we have indicated there would be no likely significant effects as a result of the construction and operation of the new road alone, or in combination with other projects. “More detail on our approach to the long-term management of the project’s proposed environmental mitigation. “The Planning Inspectorate has also shared some feedback from Local Authorities on our approach to consultation. We will consider this feedback carefully as we refine key areas of our submission ahead of resubmitting our application for a Development Consent Order. “For a project of the size and complexity of the Lower Thames Crossing, it is reasonable for the Planning Inspectorate to ask for further information, and we are doing everything we can to resubmit our application at the earliest opportunity.”
Plans to build the Lower Thames Crossing have been delayed with Highways England’s withdrawal of its application for a Development Consent Order. “We’ve withdrawn the Development Consent Order application for the Lower Thames Crossing based on early feedback we’ve had from the Planning Inspectorate,” said a spokesman for HE. “We will take time to collate the information required for the specific points raised and will be resubmitting the application early in the new year.” Alex Hills, Gravesham chairman of CPRE Kent, said: “We would be happier if the application was completely withdrawn as it is an ill-thought-out scheme that will be massively damaging for Kent without solving the problems at the Dartford Crossing.” For the scheme to progress, HE needs to be granted a DCO by the Planning Inspectorate, government’s planning agency.
Highways England has submitted its application for a Development Consent Order for the Lower Thames Crossing. The submission was made on Friday, October 23, to the Planning Inspectorate, which will decide, within 28 days, if it is accepted for examination. HE expects the Planning Inspectorate to make its decision on acceptance by Friday, November 20. If the application is accepted for examination, the following process will unfold: Pre-examination period: probably between late November and March 2021 Examination: anticipated from March to September 2021 Recommendation period: anticipated autumn 2021 to spring 2022 HE says: “Only after the recommendation period in 2022 would the application be formally presented to the Secretary of State for Transport for them to decide if the application is approved or not – and only if it is approved, could we start building the Lower Thames Crossing.” Learn more about the application process, including how and at what stage you can get involved, here
For more on the Lower Thames Crossing, see here, here and here
A growing number of groups are bidding to fund a judicial review of the decision to grant a Development Consent Order for the reopening of Manston airport as a freight hub. The decision was made in the name of Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, against the Examining Authority’s recommendation that the DCO be refused due to conservation of habitats and species regulations. Almost 850 groups and individuals have already pledged more than £57,000 to the CrowdJustice campaign to fund the judicial review. There are just eight days left to contribute – if you would like to help fund the bid, click here
For more on the decision to grant the DCO, click here
Manston… are we finally on the way to some kind of resolution over its future?
The next phase in deciding the fate of the Manston airport site began this week.
The Planning Inspectorate’s examination into RiverOak Strategic Partners’ application for a Development Consent Order was marked by the preliminary meeting held at Margate Winter Gardens on Wednesday (January 9).
The meeting, which was open to the public, comprised discussion of procedural matters only – this was not an event for debate on the merits or otherwise of the application.
Three representatives of CPRE Kent (director Hilary Newport, Thanet chairman David Morrish and environment committee member Chris Lowe) were present as the four-strong Examining Authority clarified issues and some of those who had made Relevant Representations (known as Interested Parties) made themselves known.
The examination, which will take six months, will determine whether the RSP plan to reopen the site as an aviation freight hub should be regarded as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project.
If it does, the Secretary of State for Transport (currently Chris Grayling) can grant seizure of the site.
During the period of the examination, Interested Parties will be asked to give further written details of their views, while there will also be public hearings.
When the examination is concluded, the Planning Inspectorate has three months to prepare a report and recommendation for the Secretary of State, who then himself has three months to decide on the application.
Finally, there is a six-month period when that decision can be challenged in the High Court.
At Wednesday’s preliminary meeting, chaired by lead examiner Kelvin MacDonald, CPRE Kent asked that an Issue Specific Hearing be scheduled for climate-change considerations.
Among the 2,052 Relevant Representations posted on the examination website (“an almost unprecedented number for a national infrastructure application,” according to Mr MacDonald), site owner Stone Hill Park Ltd, which has plans for some 4,000 homes, business units and sporting facilities at Manston, has prepared a 668-page document laying out its principal objections to the application – primarily that the planned operation was not nationally significant and there were doubts about viability and national need.
CPRE Kent’s next involvement with the examination will be the presentation of an expanded written representation by Friday, February 15 (revised from February 8).
To listen to Wednesday’s preliminary meeting, click here