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News Every Day |

Fresh nature reserve vision for Swanscombe Peninsula site earmarked for £2.5bn London Resort theme park

Fresh nature reserve vision for Swanscombe Peninsula site earmarked for £2.5bn London Resort theme park

An alternative vision for a neglected "nature oasis" still subject to controversial plans for a multi-billion pound Disneyland-style theme park has been unveiled.

The Swanscombe Peninsula is Britain's newest site of special scientific interest (SSSI) – a status reserved only for the country's most important environmental sites.

Sat along the river banks of the Thames Estuary near Dartford, the 260-hectare plot was granted protection owing to its rich abundance of wildlife encompassing wetland birds and water voles, as well as rare bees, spiders and plants.

Despite this the site remains earmarked to be turned into a £2.5bn theme park by London Resort Company Holdings (LRCH), a project designated to be “nationally significant infrastructure”.

Developers behind the theme park bid claim it will bring much-needed jobs, investment and the regeneration of a brownfield site.

But wildlife charities and campaigners have long argued the plans are at odds with its eco-credentials as a "much-loved green lung" and have lobbied for its protection and a currently shelved planning application to be dropped.

The Save Swanscombe Peninsula Group has been working with Buglife, CPRE Kent, Kent Wildlife Trust and RSPB, who campaigned for the SSSI, to set out an alternative vision for the site.

A CGI visual of how the site might look as a visitor attraction. Photo: Save Swanscombe Peninsula
A CGI visual of how the site might look as a visitor attraction. Photo: Save Swanscombe Peninsula
A map of the Swanscombe Peninsula site as envisioned under the new vision. Photo: Save Swanscombe Peninsula
A map of the Swanscombe Peninsula site as envisioned under the new vision. Photo: Save Swanscombe Peninsula

The vision was created following a community survey held to better understand how local people would like the site to be used in the future.

Hundreds of people completed the survey, putting forward their views on how the site could look in the future.

The results, which have been released today to coincide with the ongoing COP 27 climate conference, reveal a strong desire for the site to be managed as a nature reserve, the group said.

Of those asked, 87% identified it as either "very important" or "somewhat important" to their physical or mental wellbeing with 52% wanting a bird hide installed and 32% displaying a preference for a visitor centre.

Following the survey, ideas were drawn up to accommodate these views including increased signage, picnic tables, nature trails, and improved management for wildlife. Click here to view the vision.

The changes would help more people to reap the benefits of being closer to nature where they can see rare flowers, hear the iconic Nightingale and may even catch a glimpse of the secretive water vole, the group adds.

The Swanscombe marshes offered respite for local people during the pandemic. Photo: Daniel Greenwood
The Swanscombe marshes offered respite for local people during the pandemic. Photo: Daniel Greenwood
Cycling at the Swanscombe Peninsula. Photo: Donna Zimmer
Cycling at the Swanscombe Peninsula. Photo: Donna Zimmer

Local campaigner Donna Zimmer, of the Save Swanscombe Peninsula group, said: "The site has faced serious threats, from inappropriate planning to investment zones.So today we are super proud to share how incredible this site is.

"We need to protect it and we want to start conversations with landowners and decision-makers on how we can move forward to protect Swanscombe Peninsula for ourselves and future generations."

As part of the campaign, people in Dartford and Gravesham are being encouraged to write to their MP and ask them to support the alternative vision.

"It is our chance to have a nature reserve on our doorstep that brings people closer to nature," added Ms Zimmer.

"Those who want to help us protect the site but live outside the area can show their support through social media, and help us make a noise so we can save Swanscombe Peninsula - because if nature thrives, we do too.”

Save Swanscombe Peninsula Campaigner Donna Zimmer. Photo: Save Swanscombe Peninsula
Save Swanscombe Peninsula Campaigner Donna Zimmer. Photo: Save Swanscombe Peninsula

Across the Thames lays a potential blueprint in the form of the Rainham Marshes, a nature reserve maintained by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

But unlike its Essex neighbour with its accessible boardwalks and modern education and visitor centre, the Swanscombe site has sat largely neglected for decades.

The Peninsula site also has a complicated history dating back to its industrial heritage with the coastal grazing marsh and grassland habitats subject to landfill and the dumping of cement waste.

It also plays host to water treatment works, the HS1 railway and jetties and the UK’s tallest electricity pylon.

Conservationists are bracing themselves for further battles to protect such sites in the wake of the government' proposals for new "investment zones".

If not scrapped in Thursday's budget the move could give developers "free rein" to bypass environmental laws and pollute waters and the countryside, campaigners claim.

Visitors touring the Swanscombe Marshes. Photo: Richard Bayfield
Visitors touring the Swanscombe Marshes. Photo: Richard Bayfield
Water voles call the Swanscombe Peninsula home
Water voles call the Swanscombe Peninsula home

Details of the plans, intended to bring growth, housing and commercial development, reveal councils can apply for zones with some reports suggesting national parks, green belt land and SSSIs.

But the government has previously dismissed concerns it was reneging on its promises and said a strong environment and economy "go hand-in-hand".

It comes as a new report warns the UK will miss its key nature pledge to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030 unless it scraps plans to deregulate environmental protections.

According to the environmental charities coalition Wildlife and Countryside Link, SSSIs are among the most important nature sites in England but not all are currently “in favourable condition”.

The report also found there has been no significant improvement in the monitoring or management of existing protected areas.

Dartford Councillor Laura Edie says growth should not be at the cost of our health. Photo: Save Swanscombe Peninsula
Dartford Councillor Laura Edie says growth should not be at the cost of our health. Photo: Save Swanscombe Peninsula

Dartford councillor and Green Party member Laura Edie said having a "nature oasis meant everything in such a built-up area".

“There has never been a more critically important time to defend nature and safeguard our future by protecting sites like Swanscombe Peninsula," she said.

“Growth should not be at the cost of our health. We need to ensure that these precious green spaces remain so we can adapt to the challenges we face as a result of the climate and biodiversity crises."

London Resort previously said it remained "100% committed" to delivering the project and would commit £150m on environmental improvements.

It said the classification of Tilbury as a Freeport and the decision to designate the site as an SSSI had "impacted the project" and required it to withdraw.

But bosses said they would resubmit a fresh application "within this calendar year".

LRCH were approached for comment.

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