As outlined in our update last month, the planning application for Project Exodus at Thorpe Park Resort continues to progress through the usual post-submission phase of statutory and non-statutory consultations, in order to help inform Runnymede Borough Council’s (RBC) decision on whether or not to approve the proposals. Further documents have recently been uploaded in relation to the issues which remain open.
The most significant objection came from the Environment Agency in respect of the potential flood risk at the proposed development site. Atkins, the environmental specialist engaged by Thorpe Park, have now submitted a revised Flood Risk Assessment (FRA) in response to the letter sent by the Environment Agency in June, which gave three specific objections. One of the revisions made has been to add details of the floodplain compensation already provided for as part of the Medium Term Development Plan 2010-2016, which was specifically requested by the Environment Agency to address one of the objections. This provides reference of where historically, the agreed floodplain compensation bank approach has been accepted and approved by the Runnymede Borough Council and the Environment Agency. Additionally, a revised planning image showing the extent that Abbey Lake will be filled in once the ride moves from the construction phase to the operational phase has also been added to the FRA. This makes it much clearer to see that most of the infill will be removed, other than where it needs to be retained in order to support the rollercoaster’s footers.
Natural England were another party with unresolved objections, after stating that the application could have potential significant effects on the South-West London Waterbodies SPA during the construction phase. They therefore required a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) to be completed to address these concerns, and also requested clarity on the impacts of the temporary infilling of Abbey Lake. Although it is Runnymede Borough Council that need to provide the HRA to Natural England, Baker Consultants (ecology consultants) previously indicated that they would aid the council in doing this by preparing a ‘shadow HRA’ (sHRA). This document has now been drafted and added to the application.
The two key issues that it considers is the potential disturbance to species within the site and the prospect of pollution of ground/surface water. The sHRA concludes that the distribution of the birds on site is primarily at sufficient distance from the works for noise and visual impacts to not have a significant adverse impact, and the CEMP will ensure that standard noise-limiting measures will be implemented during works, further reducing the potential for impacts. To prevent potential adverse impacts during the lake infilling and excavation, any lake water silt cloud generation will be contained by the standard practice of using silt curtains – a structure made from sheet material that is placed suspended in the waterbody, acting as a barrier to prevent suspended silt dispersing through the waterbody and allowing it to fall out of the water column into the sediment. This will help prevent any adverse impacts on water quality within the connected lake system.
The sHRA notes that it is still anticipated that construction of the new rollercoaster will start in autumn/winter 2022/23, lasting a period of approximately 75 weeks.
Surrey Wildlife Trust
Surrey Wildlife Trust requested further details to (i) substantiate the Biodiversity Net Gain proposals, as well as (ii) further information on the potential impacts, and proposed mitigation, on protected species (i.e. birds and bats) and habitats. As part of the response to the first point, which also saw Baker Consultants directly responding to issues raised in a memo in May, a draft Landscape and Ecology Management Plan (LEMP) has been prepared. This outlines the long-term post-construction management that will be implemented at the site during its operation. A complete final LEMP will then be provided under a Planning Condition. The draft LEMP should provide Runnymede Borough Council with enough information to allow a planning decision to be made and the Planning Condition to be drafted.
To address the second point, Baker Consultants undertook a tree-climbing survey at the end of June on a mature ash tree which has been recommended for removal, since it was assessed to have moderate bat roost potential. Following the survey, the tree was assessed to have low roosting potential, with only one feature having limited suitability. Nonetheless, it is recommended that the tree should be felled in pieces, under ecological supervision, so the potential roost feature can be checked for bats during the process. This recommendation has now been included within the Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP), with another revised version of this document recently uploaded. The CEMP has also been updated to reflect the conclusions of the sHRA.
Furthermore, the Ecological Impact Assessment has also been revised to incorporate the additional information requested by Surrey Wildlife Trust and Natural England. Namely this was to provide additional description of the gravel pit inlet at the rollercoaster location and more detailed information and plans showing the winter bird distribution.
Although progress is evidently being made, the application is not on the agenda for discussion at this month’s Planning Committee meeting on 13th July 2022. Given that there will be two months until the next meeting on 7th September 2022, we would expect that the Resort are hoping that the application will be in a position to go before the committee on this date for a decision to be made, in order to keep the application on track with the planned timeline.
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