The wait is over – the spring edition of Kent Countryside Voice is with us! Features on the glory of hedgerows, possible ways to tackle the county’s water crisis and the threat posed by a planned theme park to a wildlife haven are among a cornucopia of treats for all who treasure our county’s countryside. So settle back with a brew or your favourite tipple and enjoy a great read here
The Swanscombe peninsula – the area of north Kent being targeted for the building of the country’s largest theme park – has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). National England announced today (Thursday, March 11, 2021) that the peninsula’s “nationally important invertebrates, breeding birds, plants and geology” warranted such recognition. The government advisory body said: “The 250 hectare site, alongside the Thames Estuary, forms a corridor of habitats connecting Ebbsfleet Valley with the southern shore of the River Thames between Dartford and Gravesend. “The site has an incredible assortment of grassland, scrub, wetlands, grazing marsh and saltmarsh habitat in a relatively small area, providing ideal conditions for a unique variety of wildlife. “The area is home to over 1,700 invertebrate species, which includes over a quarter of the UK’s water beetle species and more than 200 species that are considered of conservation importance. It is one of just two places in the UK where the critically endangered distinguished jumping spider is found. “The rich and varied habitats on the peninsula also provide great conditions for breeding birds such as marsh harrier and bearded tit, and for nationally scarce plants threatened with extinction in Great Britain, such as the divided sedge and the slender hare’s ear.” James Seymour, NE’s Sussex and Kent area manager, added: “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. “Right on the doorstep of some of our most densely populated towns and cities, this new SSSI will also offer wonderful opportunities for people to connect with nature via the England Coast Path. “This area is living proof that some of our most important species can thrive hand in hand with businesses and transport infrastructure. Special places like this will form the vital backbone of a national nature recovery network.” The new Swanscombe Peninsula SSSI includes the previously-designated Bakers Hole SSSI, which covers 6.9 hectares with geological and archaeological features. The designation is undoubtedly good news, but this is only the start of the process, not the end, as there will now be a four-month consultation before potential SSSI confirmation. Natural England said: “As of 11 March 2021, the SSSI has been formally notified to landowners and occupiers and other interested parties. “There will be a 4 month period in which anyone can make representations or object to the notification. If all objections are resolved or none are submitted, the designation will be confirmed. If there are unresolved objections the Natural England Board will hear all of these; they must then decide whether to confirm the designation (with or without reductions). “If the notification is not confirmed within 9 months of the date of notification, the notification falls.” And, in a clear reference to the proposed London Resort theme park, it said: “Natural England recognises that there is interest and consideration of potential development opportunities in the Swanscombe area. “Designation of this site for its nationally important wildlife features is an important step towards ensuring that its environmental value is recognised and taken due account of in any future planning decisions.” In January, the Planning Inspectorate accepted the application by London Resort Company Holdings for a Development Consent Order to build the London Resort theme park on the peninsula.
Announced to huge fanfare in 2012, the proposed London Resort theme park at Swanscombe appears as far from fruition as ever, a fact noted gloomily in a report advocating colossal urban development in north Kent.
The developer behind the theme park, London Resort Company Holdings, has revealed that it is delaying its application for a Development Consent Order until 2019.
It reportedly did not “sufficiently estimate” elements that could affect its plans for the 535-acre site.
In an indication of the extraordinary development pressure on the area, LRCH has pointed to three neighbouring proposals, including proposed changes to the A2 and the Lower Thames Crossing, for the delayed application.
Whatever the reasons, it seems support for the developer is waning.
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson said: “Dartford is losing patience with LRCH and its proposed theme park.
“This latest delay is just one in a series of postponements that has created uncertainty for the existing businesses on the Swanscombe peninsula and makes LRCH look incapable of ever delivering this project.
“I have always felt the jobs that could come from a leisure facility on the peninsula would be very welcome, but I have yet to see evidence of how the local area would cope with the extra people and vehicles it would bring.
“The concept of a theme park was initially welcomed by local people, but this uncertainty is becoming intolerable.”
The delayed submission date will presumably not go down well with the Thames Estuary Growth Commission, which is calling for “a minimum” of a million homes to be built in the estuary by 2050.
This advisory body to the government declares in its 2050 Vision report that a DCO application for London Resort should be made “as soon as possible”.
“Should an application not be submitted by the end of 2018, the government should consider all the options for resolving the uncertainty this scheme is creating for the delivery of the wider Ebbsfleet Garden City,” it says.