Following its submission at the end of 2020, the Development Consent Order (DCO) for The London Resort has now been accepted for examination by the Planning Inspectorate, with its 25,000 pages of reports, assessments and analysis providing a new insight into the project.
Having originally been announced in October 2012, the process of reaching this significant milestone has been a long and winding one, although the pace of progress has increased during the last year and a half since PY Gerbeau joined the project team. In response to the application’s acceptance, PY Gerbeau, CEO of London Resort Company Holdings said:
“It’s taken an enormous effort from everyone involved to get to where we are today. I want to thank the home team, our investor, our partners and people who supported us for their dedication and incredible commitment.
“We have always said our ambition is to build much more than just a theme park. It will be a beacon of world class entertainment and experiences within a world-leading sustainable environment. We still have a long way to go and we are very much looking forward to working with the Planning Inspectorate over the coming months. But, from where we were, less than eighteen months ago, today is a game changer and a very special day to celebrate.”
The London Resort is designed to cater for up to 6.5 million visitors per year with only Gate 1 (the first theme park and main resort complex) open, and then up to 12.5 million visitors per year once Gates 2 (principally the second theme park) is in operation, with up to 35% of visitors projected to come from overseas. Although the theme parks will be the main attraction for visitors, the Resort also consists of a number of other elements which are all detailed in the application.
Theme Park Gates 1 & 2
Gates 1 and 2 will each incorporate theme park rides and attractions, events spaces, dining options and entertainment venues, which will provide visitors with a wide range of memorable experiences. The theme parks will be opened in two phases, comprising a 57-hectare area known as Gate 1 opening in 2024, and a 22.5-hectare area known as Gate 2 opening in 2029, with each phase subdivided into themed zones.
These areas will reflect agreements with intellectual property (IP) providers, and will include rides, shows and attractions suitable for families, children, and the more adventurous thrill-seeking visitor. These will include film, television and computer gaming brands as well as attractions bespoke to The London Resort. The DCO application states that the content of the zones will be changed or updated from time to time in line with evolving market demand, and the planning type applied for incorporates the flexibility to enable this.
Retail and amenity facilities, including a range of restaurants, cafes and outlets linked to the Resort experience, will be integrated into both Gates. A combination of theatres and indoor and outdoor venues within the theme parks will provide West End quality productions and shorter-format shows, showcasing content from the IP providers, as well as provide a stage for live comedy acts and concerts.
The Gates will also incorporate water features, designed as natural systems to work in harmony with a sustainable drainage strategy, to connect through the circulation spaces and form focal points between the different themed areas. These features will provide opportunity for visitor interaction with water as well as habitat ‘stepping-stones’.
Each Gate will have an external entrance plaza with space for people to gather outside the entrances, and to provide space for guest services and ancillary commercial use. Each Gate would also include a ‘City Hall’ building that will include administrative offices, security and first aid and information services for visitors.
The DCO application seeks consent for development parameters, or the ‘Rochdale Envelope’ approach, where the nature of the proposed development means that some details of the whole project have not been confirmed, for instance the precise dimensions of rides and attractions, with detailed design being subject to approval by the relevant planning authorities. The proposed maximum height parameters for buildings and structures inside Gate 1 range from 40-100m (131-328ft) AOD and between 35-65m (115-213ft) AOD in Gate 2. These upper limits are said to enable the construction of tall rides and centrepiece features such as the castle which has been detailed in the plans, as well as in concept visuals previously released. At least 60% of the attractions in the two theme parks will be located inside buildings with the aim of providing a compelling entertainment experience regardless of the weather.
The primary role of the Plaza will be to create a strong sense of arrival and orientation, with both its design and the inclusion of intelligent signage helping to manage peak flow and bottlenecks to avoid queues and congestion on arrival and departure. It will measure up to 22,500 square meters in area and has been designed for a post-COVID-19 world, where social distancing can be accommodated efficiently, should another pandemic occur.
A grand ‘Foadarche’, up to 100m in diameter with a maximum height of 130m, is to be located in the middle of the Plaza, creating a strong sense of arrival, a meeting place, and a waypoint within the attraction and beyond. Attractive hedges will border the outer edges of the Plaza, with a presence of grassy berms that run along both sides, planted with wild flowers and seasonal bulbs, creating spectacular drifts of colour at different times of the year.
An interesting feature to note is that recycled rainwater will be used to create a water feature on the Plaza that creates dramatic reflecting pools, a tuneable and serviceable feature than can recede to accommodate peak capacity, whilst also providing the very first visitor to arrive with, and last to depart with, a memorable moment. Flowing lines will create a dynamic paving pattern that breaks up the space and directs people on their journey.
From the Plaza, visitors would be directed towards the Conferention Centre and e-Sports Coliseum or through the Market towards the visitor entrance plazas serving Gates 1 and 2. At the north-western corner of the Plaza would be a wide bank of steps, known provisionally as the Spanish Steps leading down to Pilgrims’ Way. The Plaza’s fluvial theme would continue down these steps, with flowing water and planting drawing visitors to the lower level in a series of terraces.
The Boulevard, The Market & Link Buildings
This pedestrian thoroughfare will connect The London Resort Terminal via the Plaza to the Boulevard, the Market beyond, and from there to the wider London Resort offer. The Boulevard will provide themed retail, dining, and entertainment offerings, including a bar and music venue. As guests cross the Plaza, they will be drawn towards The London Resort Hotel, with its outreaching arms framing the Boulevard and main entrance to The London Resort. Graceful sculptural birds suspended in the air are set to create a spectacular foil for addressable lighting that brings them to life as daylight draws to a close.
To the north of the existing train line will lie The London Resort Market, the main distribution and collection point for visitors to head off towards and return from the wide range of attractions available. The Market will provide a different form of food and beverage offer in comparison to The Plaza, rather like London’s famous Borough Market, arranged over two levels with galleried seating to facilitate people watching, whilst enjoying a bite to eat.
Four hotels with a total capacity of up to 3,550 rooms will provide overnight accommodation for visitors, and be located in the Leisure Core, close to Gates 1 and 2. Visitors will be offered a range of family, up-market and luxury hotels to suit different tastes and budgets, and some of the hotels might be themed to provide a strong linkage with other Resort attractions. The arrival landscape for each will have its own unique design whilst retaining the key themes of the Resort landscape, including sustainable water features and wet habitat as well as striking planting and imaginative lighting schemes. The hotel grounds will generally be laid out as gardens with the creation of intimate spaces for use as ‘outdoor rooms’ and lawns, courtyards and terraces for outdoor dining and functions in the summer months. The hotels would also feature green roofs incorporating terraces for use by guests.
The London Resort Hotel (Hotel 1) will be the flagship accommodation offering, and consist of 800 rooms, arranged within two wings either side of the Boulevard, linked at basement level. One side of the hotel will operate the Water Park for the benefit of hotel guests. The northern end of the hotel wings would include entrances to a music venue located beneath the Market, and to a Sports Bar located beneath the northern end of the Water Park.
Hotel 2 will stand within a landscaped setting on the east side of the Pilgrims Way, a short distance to the south of The London Resort ferry terminal. The hotel will provide 1,500 rooms and enjoy views over the River Thames and Black Duck Marsh.
Hotel 3 will consist of 850 rooms and enjoy a pivotal location within the development, at the foot of Pilgrims Way as it descends from Galley Hill to the north, along the east side of the hotel. The chalk cliffs will create a stunning backdrop and an intimate relationship between the two. This hotel will be delivered as part of the Gate 2 opening in 2029.
Hotel 4 will also open with the second theme park, complementing and enhancing the existing hotels by providing a modest boutique offer, with 400 rooms. It will stand within a landscaped setting on the east side of Pilgrims Way to the south of The London Resort Ferry Terminal and to the north of the Coliseum.
In August 2019 it was announced that the company had agreed a partnership with Radisson Hotel Group, so it remains to be seen if some or all of the above hotels will open under the Radisson group of brands.
The Water Park
Designed as an integral part of The London Resort Hotel, which will both own and operate it, The Water Park will be primarily for the enjoyment of its guests. It will include a range of interlinked swimming pools designed for swimmers of all ages, with water slides and a wave machine. The Water Park will be enclosed under domed structures to ensure year-round comfort for visitors. The Water Park will have the ability to allow controlled access for non-hotel guests when appropriate, through a dedicated entrance located at the south east corner of the east wing of the hotel.
This will be a landmark structure within The London Resort, dedicated to hosting a range of e-Sports computer gaming events across three key spaces, arranged in a vertical stack to provide essential flexibility between functions. Innovation City will occupy the ground floor lower level, a flexible hall demonstrating the best of technology.
The middle ‘Gamers Level’ will be the principal level of entry for visitors to the Coliseum, with a formal axial relationship to The Market. This level will be focussed on gaming with demonstrations of new technology and software, presentations and live streaming, with a core of TV studios for interviews, smaller scale live demonstrations by professional gamers, and gaming shows.
The upper level will be the Coliseum’s spectacular Arena, hosting major events with 2,500-3,000 tiered seats arranged over two levels, in a 360-degree theatre in the round. Flexible breakout spaces will surround the arena at both levels.
A fusion of a ‘conference’ and ‘convention’ centre, The Conferention Centre will be capable of accommodating up to 4,000 seated visitors and used flexibly for concerts, live television productions, exhibitions and conventions. Consisting of a number of spaces, the venue will be able to host a range of simultaneous events, ensuring that there is something to see at all times, whilst allowing time and space for particular events to be set up and taken down without interrupting the rest of the occupants. Its striking architectural form will be a landmark along Pilgrims Way, with an elevated presence off The Market.
Transport Terminal Buildings & Car Parks
Visitors to the attraction will firstly be greeted by The London Resort Transport Terminal, which serves as a drop off and collection point for guests arriving on foot, by bicycle, car, taxi, bus, ferry, coach and train – LRCH will incentivise travel to the Resort by non-car modes through measures including preferential ticketing and Gate entry strategies. Arranged over two levels, it connects the coach and bus station at ground floor level with the plaza level above, with bridge links to the adjacent multi storey car park structures to the east.
The London Resort car parks will accommodate up to 7,500 vehicles in total, and 350 motorcycle parking spaces, together with 250 secure cycle parking spaces. They will be arranged as a linear row of three structures, and be phased in construction, with the third structure opening with the second theme park. Public access to the car parks will be from the dedicated dual carriageway from the A2 motorway, which effectively precludes access off the local road network, avoiding associated congestion.
The London Resort Ferry Terminal on the north west shore of the Swanscombe Peninsula will serve the attraction and surrounding community, providing connections to central London and The London Resort Terminal at Tilbury, using a fleet of high-speed Thames Clipper vessels. The terminal building will shield visitors from the neighbouring London Resort Port to the north east, which will be used for goods deliveries by river.
A 3.1 km people mover route is proposed between an interchange located to the west of Ebbsfleet International Station and the ferry terminal on the Swanscombe Peninsula. The route would incorporate stops at the main transport interchange adjacent to the resort car parking area and visitor entrance plazas. The route would be used exclusively by a dedicated fleet of articulated electric people movers, each with a capacity of 100-150 passengers, as well as smaller vehicles for staff arriving by rail.
Visitor Centre & Training Facility
It is proposed that the head of Pilgrims Way will be anchored by an impressive three-storey Visitor Centre, along with a staff training facility and The London Resort Academy. This building will accommodate a wide variety of uses over time, such as promoting The London Resort during construction with its commanding views over the future theme park resort. The building will also serve as a focus for the local community, keeping residents and visitors informed on progress and community matters on the run-up to opening.
The London Resort Academy will prove training for a wide range of staff to fulfil the diverse employment opportunities that The London Resort will offer. The Academy will also encourage career development for those who are already employed within The London Resort with additional training and skills development available.
The former Craylands Lane Pit will be the location for dedicated Staff Accommodation. These facilities will be focused on accommodating the needs of employees who may find it difficult to live in the wider area at the beginning of their careers. Up to 500 dwellings will be provided in a phased development running in parallel with the opening of the first theme park in 2024, and the second in 2029.
Included alongside the DCO application is an ‘outline Construction Method Statement’ (oCMS). A Construction Method Statement sets out the indicative construction methodologies, works, machinery and procedures required to build a development. It is submitted only in outline at this stage because some details of how the Resort will be constructed have yet to be confirmed and will require the input of contractors appointed subject to a DCO being made. Nonetheless, the oCMS details the planned programme for delivery of the first phase, which is expected to be over 28-32 months. Construction would only commence once a DCO is made, with the main period for construction works anticipated to extend over approximately seven years:
- Gate 1 – start on site anticipated to be Q3 2022, for completion and opening in July/August 2024
- Gate 2 – start on site anticipated Q3 2027, for completion and opening during 2029
Since the Secretary of State’s decision on whether to make a DCO for The London Resort is not anticipated to be until the second quarter of 2022, locally approved planning permissions are also being contemplated by LRCH for any advance works required.
A more detailed phasing of the construction process is set out in the oCMS as follows:
- Month 1 (Q3 2022) – enabling works
- Months 3 to 6 – demolition, site grading, remediation
- Months 6 to 9 – works on utilities + internal road network
- Months 9 to 15 – starting works on Nodes 1 + 2/3, Boulevard, The Coliseum, Visitor Centre and other building structures
- Months 15 to 18 – start on site for Gate 1 theme park
- Months 18 to 21 – construction of individual buildings structures for Gate 1
- Months 21 to 24 – Gate 1 construction ongoing + building structures progressing, hotels commissioning, Visitor Centre + Training Facility completed
- Months 24 to 27 – final fitting out + commissioning to all buildings
- Months 27 to 30 – completion of all buildings + landscaping and external works
- Month 30 (late 2024) – Gate 1 + complex open
- Months 30 to 33 – Conferention centre completion, post-opening snagging
To enable efficient on-site construction, LRCH will seek to use modularised construction methods and prefabricated building components where possible, including bedroom pods for the hotel complexes and the use of pre-cast concrete and modular steel components in buildings, such as back of house warehouses and the car park structures. It is specifically noted that the Gate 1 and Gate 2 themed areas will make extensive use of pre-manufactured components for both the rides and the themed cladding. These will include various large components that, where feasible, will be delivered in modular form by barge.
As has been noted throughout the preliminary stages, it is proposed to use the River Thames to support the import of construction materials and export of construction waste as much as possible, with the aim being to deliver at least 80% of construction materials using the river. Another interesting feature of the construction process, arising from the site’s close proximity to water, is that in order to provide sufficient temporary workforce accommodation, LRCH are considering the possibility of hiring or procuring a cruise ship docked at the Port of Tilbury, alongside mobile homes located at the Kent Project Site.
Key to the viability of the project is obtaining the funding necessary to finance it, which includes amounts needed for the compulsory acquisition of and temporary possession powers over the required land, as well as the development of it into the proposed resort. LRCH have already secured over two thirds of the land for the Kent Project Site as a result of option agreements with Swanscombe Development LLP and Ebbsfleet Development Corporation. The remaining land is estimated to cost £200m, with this cost included within the estimated total costs of £1.8bn to bring into operation Gate 1 and the development associated with the initial opening of the park. Subsequent expansion of Gate 1 and the construction of Gate 2 and additional hotel facilities is then estimated at £0.7bn.
LRCH intends to meet the initial project development cost through equity and debt financing, in an approximate 50:50 ratio, following the confirmation of the DCO. It is stated that investors to fund this financing have already been identified but have chosen to remain confidential at present, since their commitment to fund the project will be subject to it receiving development consent. Although the project is noted to have sufficient external investor interest to go ahead fully funded by them, any shortfall in funding the exercise of compulsory acquisition powers would be met by the Applicant’s shareholders, as detailed by the LRCH ownership structure.
Although the application provides a promising outlook for the project, it does not come without local opposition. This includes that from businesses who currently operate on land that LRCH would need to acquire under the compulsory acquisition powers it is requesting, who claim to not have been satisfactorily consulted. Similarly, environmental organisations consisting of the RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust, and Buglife also believe that consultation has been insufficient, and some of the concerns they raised during the process have not be adequately addressed by the application. Concerns have also be raised by the Thames Crossing Action Group about the validity of the road and traffic details and diagrams included in the DCO.
With the application now accepted, the project moves firstly into the pre-examination stage, where members of the public are able to register as an Interested Party by making a Relevant Representation – a summary of their views, made in writing. An Examining Authority will also be appointed, and all Interested Parties invited to attend a Preliminary Meeting. This stage usually takes approximately three months from acceptance, so would be expected to conclude at the end of April 2021.
For the main examination phase, the Planning Inspectorate has up to six months, and it is during this phase that Interested Parties are invited to provide more details of their views. Consideration is given by the Examining Authority to all the important and relevant matters including Interested Parties’ representations, any supporting evidence submitted and answers provided to the Examining Authority’s questions.
Following this, the Planning Inspectorate will prepare a report on the application to the relevant Secretary of State, including a recommendation, within three months of the close of the Examination stage. The Secretary of State then has a further three months to make the decision on whether to ultimately grant or refuse development consent. An initial recommendation is therefore expected by the end of February 2022, and a final decision by end of May 2022. Once a decision has been issued, there is a six week period in which the decision may be challenged in the High Court under Judicial Review.
The whole process is therefore expected to last around 16 months, but could range from 12-18 months depending on the time taken to complete each stage.