Thorpe Park Resort’s Project Exodus is reaching the end of the planning stages, with the corresponding planning application placed on the agenda for the 5th October meeting of the Runnymede Planning Committee, with a recommendation to grant permission subject to conditions.
The planning officer’s report on the application indicates that their recommendation is to authorise the council’s Corporate Head of Development and Building Control (CHDMBC) to grant planning permission subject to a number of planning conditions. In summary, these stipulations are relatively standard in nature or reflect specific responses from consultees to the submitted application. For example, the conditions include a requirement for Thorpe Park to keep Runnymede Borough Council (RBC) informed about dates for demolition, construction, as well as information on the colour schemes and types of materials to be used in the construction, noted as being in line with Runnymede’s 2030 local plan. Overall, the planning officer appears to be sympathetic to and in agreement with what the Resort and its planning consultants (Lichfields) have presented as part of the application documents, including the ‘very special circumstances’ case for development in a Green Belt area, the visual acceptability of the development, and the wider economic benefits that flow to the local area from Thorpe Park.
Most notably, RBC also share a similar view to the Resort of the flood risk proposed by the development, despite the objections raised by the Environment Agency (EA). Indeed, it is noted that the lengthy timings for responses from the EA, ranging from 8-12 weeks, have largely dictated the protracted timescale for determination of the planning application. In their most recent response at the end of August, the EA maintained two of their objections. This included the primary objection to the development being within Flood Zone 3b (i.e. the support foundations to be located in Abbey Lake), along with another that related to inadequacies in the flood risk assessment, which still remained after a revised version was submitted. On the latter, the planning officer does appear to register some surprise that new technical points have been introduced 19 weeks since the initial consultation.
Atkins, the environmental specialist engaged by Thorpe Park, provided a response earlier this month on the outstanding matters, but with it anticipated that a response could take another 8-12 weeks the council are keen to progress the application. This is justified by the planning officer noting that the continued delays in receiving responses from the EA and the inability to have direct and effective dialogue with them has meant that this planning application has gone well beyond the 13 week target for decision making from when the application was validated on 8th March 2022. Reference is also made to Thorpe Park highlighting that the determination of the application cannot be delayed any further as Merlin needs to commit to construction contracts to ensure that the ride can open for 2024. Correspondence has been uploaded to the planning application itself showing that RBC have attempted to have further discussions with the EA over the course of September, but have been unable to obtain a response, hence making the decision to move forward regardless. Nonetheless, as the application is subject to a formal objection from the Environment Agency, if RBC resolves to grant permission despite this, then it will be legally necessary to refer the application to the Secretary of State. It is unclear what impact this could have on the project’s timetable.
With it being just earlier this month that Thorpe Park pushed for a planning decision to be made in order to avoid a delay to the planned 2024 opening, this suggests that, at present, the planned timetable for the rollercoaster’s construction remains just about feasible. As we approach the end of the 2022 season, we are rapidly reaching the time in a construction project that you would anticipate the beginning of work to prepare the development area for the upcoming construction, including demolition of the old Old Town buildings and the remains of Logger’s Leap. Therefore, with this planning approval due to be granted on 5th October, it seems like it will be a busy winter in that part of Thorpe Park.
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