The planning application for Project Exodus at Thorpe Park Resort has finally received approval, allowing the proposals for what will become the UK’s tallest rollercoaster to at last move forward.

Although the plans received unanimous approval at a meeting of the Runnymede Borough Council (RBC) Planning Committee on 5th October, this was subject to referral to the Secretary of State due to the outstanding objection from the Environment Agency (EA). The primary objection here was to part of the development being within Flood Zone 3b (i.e. the support foundations to be located in Abbey Lake). However, RBC were in agreement with the Resort that this did not present excessive flood risk, and was in line with past precedent at the Resort for development in these areas.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities responded to the referral made by RBC following the Planning Committee meeting on 1 November, confirming that the Secretary of State had decided not to call in the application and therefore it should be determined by the local planning authority (i.e. RBC). The council therefore issued their formal decision notice on 2 November that the application should be granted permission subject to conditions.

Writing on LinkedIn, Christine Ellera, the Case Officer for the application and Deputy Development Manager at RBC, said:

“A new one for me – a rollercoaster which was partly in the functional flood plain was never going to be straight forward planning application but it should not have been as difficult as it was. We had a positive working relationship with both the planning agents, Lichfields UK and the applicant Thorpe Park. The difficulty was the lack of ability to engage effectively with the Environment Agency. I’m not going to point any fingers at the officers at the EA. I’m sure the level of service they are providing or lack there of, is not how they want to deal with matters.

“Here is the point. If the government wants to support economic growth, wants to speed up decision making, then they need to fund and resource ALL government teams that feed into the process. The knock on effect it had on the planning officers time to navigate an objection, which probably could have, at least in part, been clarified though a verbal discussion was extraordinary. Let alone having to refer a planning applications to the SoS because the EA did not have the resources to comment on revisions to overcome an objection.

“On a more positive note I hold this as another great example of how through the PPA process we were able to get a positive outcome on this planning application and on a scheme which will play a vital role in a local employers post pandemic recovery. Now on to dealing with the conditions…”

In terms of the planning conditions attached to the application’s approval, these generally appear to be standard in nature. They include the requirement for the development to commence within three years of approval, and of course that it should be completed in line with the submitted and approved drawings. Additionally, construction needs to conform to the Construction Environmental Management Plan and Tree Protection Plan submitted during the planning process. Prior to commencement of construction, the Resort are required to submit a schedule setting out the full works to be undertaken and their timings, including when the Abbey Lake inlet will be temporarily infilled and then excavated again, as well as a Site Waste Management Plan and Landscape & Ecological Management Plan, the latter having already been drafted earlier this year. The Resort will also need to submit further drainage and landscaping details, as well as completing a land contamination assessment and programme of archaeological work, before commencing construction. Before bringing the attraction into use, the Resort will need to demonstrate that the drainage system has been constructed as per what is agreed and submit an updated flood compensation table. The condition which may produce further information of most interest and potential hints towards the rollercoaster’s theme is that which requires the submission of full details of the materials, colours and finishes to be used on the exteriors of the proposed structures.

With the application having been submitted in March 2022, following the public consultation in December 2021, it has therefore taken almost eight months to reach this exciting milestone. The planning process has undoubtedly been more protracted that the Resort would have expected, with the provisional timeline indicating that a decision from the council was anticipated to come in late Spring / Summer 2022. This was to enable construction to begin in late 2022, to put the attraction on track to open in 2024 based on a construction period of 75 weeks.

With a number of planning conditions to be discharged before any significant development can begin on-site, it is unclear if there will now be any activity before the end of the year. It remains to be seen how quickly the Resort and their planning consultants will work to address the conditions, but it could be that much of the information has been prepared whilst waiting for final approval and will be submitted imminently to RBC. Nonetheless, with it having been expressed as recently as September that construction contracts had not yet been committed to, due to the pending decision, this raises questions whether the ride manufacturer (believed to be Mack Rides) will have capacity to fulfil the order to achieve a 2024 opening date.

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