By Jonathan Reed
Video supplied by KMTV Made For Kent©
It is regarded as “the happiest place on earth” and for over 60 years hundreds of millions of guests have experienced the magic of Disney. Across four countries – China, Japan, France and unsurprisingly the USA – there are twelve theme parks with only five styled as the iconic Disneyland.
These resorts are hugely successful and are easily leading the way in state-of-the-art attractions and immersive experiences. But why, after 63 years, have Disney never decided to invest in the UK? In fact, no major entertainment resort calls Great Britain its home, but is all that about to change?
Since early 2012 there has been constant talks regarding a brand-new theme park resort, dubbed “Britain’s Disneyland.” However, Disney have nothing to do with it. Instead a concept for a resort called “Paramount Park” in London was launched through a partnership between the iconic movie studios and a London based company, London Resort Company Holdings (LRCH).
The resort, which would combine an impressive theme park, waterpark, hotels, cinema and entertainment complex, was planned to be built on the Swanscombe Peninsula in Kent. Fast-forward two years and in 2014 the project was classed ‘nationally significant’. This would allow any planning permissions to bypass any local planning requirements and go straight to the Secretary of State and be submitted. This alluded to the speculation that a formal planning application would be finalised in 2015 with an opening day scheduled for 2019.
At this point traction was starting to gather speed with the first public consultations taking place, allowing local residents and businesses their say on the ambitious plans. As winter approached, another round of consultations took place in November 2014. Within these meetings, LRHC detailed the positive impact Paramount Park would have on the local and national economy, including transport, tourism and employment. Concept art was also exhibited showcasing many of the planned rides and attractions which would be featured, along with the official name of the resort – London Paramount Entertainment Resort.
With franchises such as Star Trek, Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible being touted as Paramount’s main features in the park, in December 2014 the resort teamed up with BBC Worldwide. This allowed more franchise’s involvement, including Top Gear and Doctor Who. This however would mean that the original opening date sometime within 2019 would have to be postponed to Easter 2020.
As more details were released, interest began to grow in the project, most notably from the theme park community. Many were excited that finally the UK would be getting their own Disneyesque resort, and that excitement reached fever-pitch after LRHC purchased 338 acres of land to build Paramount Park in January 2015.
February and March passed and new partners were announced – Aardman Animation and the British Film Institute. The latter were named as cultural advisors to the project, whereas Aardman would partner similarly with the BBC.
Up until this point, the planning process seemed to be smooth sailing. That was until concerns regarding parking and transport were brought to the forefront. During the public consultations, locals questioned whether the 14,000 planned parking spaces would be enough to meet demand and would encourage guests to drive instead of using public transport. To ease concerns numerous suggestions were made, including the creation of another carpark across the Thames in Essex and use a ‘park and glide’ system to ferry guests to the park’s entrance, or even a cable car option across the river.
For five months everything seemed to go quiet on Paramount Park. No details were released or further planning updates. That silence ended in September 2015 when LRHC announced they would be delaying submitting their planning application until mid-2016. This also meant that the planned opening day would be postponed again to 2021. This decision was related to raising concerns over transport arrangements and the environmental impact of the resort.
What seemingly was becoming commonplace, another delay was announced in April 2016, revealing that no planning applications would be submitted until the second quarter of 2017. It was from here onwards that we would begin to see major changes to the original plans for the park including the removal of the waterpark. In its place developers stated that a large indoor swimming pool would connect some of the hotels. They also decided upon re-theming the hotels themselves, from urban to resort-style, and once again a new opening date was revealed – Summer 2022.
However, it would be in February 2017 where the biggest changes to the proposed resort would be announced, first with the appointment of new project leaders. At this point, Paramount Park was announced as a £2 billion entertainment complex set to open in 2022. It would include a 110 acre theme park as well as 5,000 hotel rooms. The illusive planning application would be submitted by the end of 2017 and around 900 companies had registered an interest in investing in the park.
As May 2017 arrived, many avid followers of the project were raising questions about the highly anticipated £3.5 billion resort. This resulted in the LRCH insisting the park was still on course and they were entering the final stages of planning. The CEO of the project’s parent company Kuwaiti European Holdings, Humphrey Percy confidently announced that the plans would be approved and would be affordable saying: “We have the financial backing to take us all the way through that process.”
And whilst everything seemed to be starting to level out after a rocky couple of years of planning, the resort was delivered their biggest hit yet. In June 2017, LRHC announced that Paramount Pictures would no longer be involved with the project. Despite this shock split, developers insisted that the project would continue with revised plans but without any backing from a film brand.
In early 2018 a final round of public consultations on the newly named ‘The London Resort’ would take place with the Development Consent Order application being submitted in the spring. With an increase in the cost of development from £2 billion to £3.5 billion and another pushback on the opening day – this time to 2023 – those who had followed the plans started to see the project as a comical farce.
Before the final public consultation, throughout 2017 not much would change, even with the insistence that construction would being in 2019. As 2018 arrived, developers finally revealed their plans to the government. These plans would state that the resort would be separated into two ‘gates’. Gate 1 would feature a standalone theme park with six themed lands and 3,500 hotel rooms. Gate 2 would boast further hotel accommodation as well as more themed lands at the park. This announcement concluded with LRHC stating a new planning application would be submitted sometime within 2019.
After the final public consultation in 2018, in November of the same year, The London Resort’s opening day was delayed for a fifth time – now 2024 – a whopping five years after the initial opening day!
What is astonishing, is that if developers had been able to follow their original plan, the UK would have been welcoming their brand-new theme park this year.
So, with the failed plans of Paramount Park, aka, The London Resort – which hasn’t officially been cancelled, but it is looking highly likely it could be – will the UK ever see a resort of this calibre arrive on our shores?
Disney already own a theme park in Europe, Disneyland Paris, and whilst its original opening and construction was marred in controversy, the resort, now, seems to be thriving. Could Disney reach out to the UK to replace the failings of LRHC? Who knows for the future? At the moment, it looks unlikely.
As Britain’s politicians’ squabble over Brexit, it has created a high level of uncertainty, one which is both worrying and frustrating businesses looking to invest in the UK. And with Disney being a flagship company of the USA, they like the President of the United States, are waiting for Britain to sort itself out before making any anticipated trade-deal.
But against this ambiguity, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a Disneyland UK, or any similar resort, open its doors here in the future? There is arguably a huge appetite for one, and with the UK’s economy being the fifth biggest in the world, a resort like this would be a huge bonus to Britain’s tourism and image. Not to mention the UK’s impressive and long-standing commitment to film and entertainment, one which in recent years has rivalled that of Hollywood. And there would be virtually no competition for the park to endure, as the UK has no other resort backed by a film company.
It is yet to be seen whether Brits will be able to “Wish Upon A Star” or not. Will we see The London Resort ever begin construction or Disney look at a major investment for a Disneyland UK? We can only hope. But whether they will or won’t, it is pretty clear to see that they would be welcomed with open arms.