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Charities call on Michael Gove to end Swanscombe theme park threat

David Mairs
By David Mairs
28th July 2023

CPRE Kent part of group asking for removal of controversial planning designation

Conservation charities have written to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, calling on him to step in and remove a controversial planning designation that threatens the future of a nationally important wildlife site in north Kent.

The Swanscombe peninsula has been the subject of a Development Consent Order since 2014, but campaigners have called on Mr Gove to use his powers to help secure its future by revoking the planning status.

The Swanscombe peninsula is home to more than 2,000 species of invertebrate, including the critically endangered distinguished jumping spider, and 82 species of breeding birds, including nightingale, making it one of the most important breeding bird sites in south-east England.

It is also home to endangered man orchids, water voles and otters. However, it has been under threat from a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) application for the London Resort Theme Park – a planning route normally earmarked for major projects like roads and power stations. The conservation charities say this status is hindering attempts to save it and get support to enact a vision for the site that was developed together with the local community.

Since being granted permission to be considered as an NSIP, the site’s incredible wildlife value has come to the fore, culminating in its notification as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 2021 by Natural England, the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England.

This contributed to the withdrawal of a theme park application in 2022 and growing support for a vision that would see the retained Swanscombe peninsula at the heart of a thriving community wildlife haven.

However, with the NSIP direction still in place, the groundswell of support cannot translate to action and commitment by decision-makers. The charities’ letter to the Secretary of State calls on him to use the powers afforded him under the Planning Act to revoke the controversial status and enable plans for the community- and wildlife-led vision for the Swanscombe peninsula to come to fruition.

Jamie Robins, programmes manager at Buglife, said: “We have known for years that the site is a haven for wildlife, but the threat of a theme park continues to hang over it, leaving the community uncertain over the future of their much-loved green space, year after year. The time has come for the Secretary of State to remove this unnecessary and damaging planning status, so that we can take steps to save it.

“The Swanscombe peninsula is a unique site, home to thousands of species of animal and plant and an unrivalled green space for the local community, with the potential to be a nature park accessible to all. We are in a nature crisis and the government has committed to protecting 30 per cent of the UK for wildlife. We need to defend nature and to start by protecting SSSI sites like Swanscombe peninsula once and for all and helping to make the vision for the Swanscombe peninsula a reality”

Buglife, CPRE Kent, Kent Wildlife Trust and the RSPB have been working together for several years, together with local community groups to save the Peninsula, calling for it to be notified as an SSSI, engaging with the complex planning system, working with the Save Swanscombe Peninsula community group and developing the vision for the peninsula.

  • To read the letter to Michael Gove, click here
  • To learn about the alternative vision for Swanscombe peninsula, click here
The Swanscombe peninsula is a green lung in a desperately overcrowded part of north Kent (pic Paul Buckley)