Could this be the end for the London Resort?

Paramount London concept, 2012

The last major theme park built in the United Kingdom was back in 1995, when Fantasy Island offered a genuinely-grand new product with large and innovative rides.

More than 17 years later, the concept of a huge new theme park resort was announced in 2012 under the name of Paramount London.

Fast forward almost another 10 years, and that idea has become one of the longest-running commercial concepts of significant scale ever seen in the UK.

Today it is known as the London Resort due to Paramount and many other partners having fallen away over the past near-decade.

Last month the BBC and ITV were the latest associates to end their agreements with the project.

As we wrote previously, in the wake of Brexit the government has been keen to facilitate the idea of a multi-billion pound investment in the UK.

Paramount London Entertainment resort
The project was originally known as the Paramount London Entertainment Resort

But the project has been repeatedly delayed – its planned opening date pushed back almost every year.

Despite this, there have been times where the London Resort concept has almost looked a credible idea.

It is only in recent months that Merlin Entertainments has moved from dismissing the idea as a pipe dream, to openly attacking it in the planning process.

Given that the London Resort was marked as a nationally-significant infrastructure project – meaning that the central government gives the go-ahead rather than the local authorities – the lack of progress is all the more striking.

The Examining Authority (ExA) has repeatedly used its discretion to facilitate document submissions and keep the project alive – much to the irritation of both Merlin and countless local interested parties.

But a barrage of submissions the ExA received on Thursday included damning statements from some very heavyweight entities.

It is these that may finally see the project killed off, or at the very least completely reset from the beginning.

London Resort concept artwork
The concept of the resort was announced almost 10 years ago

The government’s own Department for Transport said it “does not understand how the Applicant considers it could deliver this proposed project.”

It is one of the most significant interventions to date – one government department directly addressing another and airing its scepticism of the proposals.

And although independent, the state body the Environment Agency said it has had no contact with London Resort planners since July 2021.

Even former supporter and Dartford MP, Gareth Johnson, wrote that resort planners “seem to have contempt for local people” when describing a lack of engagement.

Johnson was previously an advocate of the London Resort, having only turned against the proposals last week.

Surely now even the most optimistic and hopeful of those that have followed this idea from the beginning would agree that the London Resort’s protracted death is now nearing completion.

The likely terminal, and final, descent seems to have begun when the Swanscombe Peninsular was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) last year.

Resort planners have subsequently and systematically failed to respond to the complexities that status attracts.

Swanscombe Peninsular
The Swanscombe Peninsular was designated as a SSSI by Natural England last year

The Resort’s CEO PY Gerbeau has since said: “To all the naysayers and doom-mongers, the London Resort is going ahead, as planned.”

But there has been nothing of substance put forward since, and too many organisations that need engagement have reported that there has been none.

Natural England, which assigned the SSSI status, was critical yet still open to engagement with planners in its latest letter to ExA.

It is the ExA that now has to consider whether or not to examine the Resort proposals now, and ultimately decide the project’s fate, based on the documents submitted so far without further delay.

There was a slight tone of cold realism in Natural England’s letter filed on Thursday: “We would seek the ExA’s views on whether it considers further delay is justified.”

Although it has had its critics and doubters from day one, it can justifiably be said that the London Resort has never lacked grandiose statements, ideas and artists’ impressions.

The past decade has been an interesting diversion for theme park enthusiasts, if nothing else.

But even if the Resort is now finally killed off by the ExA, the idea of such a huge complex on the outskirts of London will remain a commercially-attractive prospect to investors.

One day, but likely under different leadership, a London resort may just become a reality.