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Theme Park Fails to Win Rates Reduction in Wake of Rollercoaster Crash

In a guideline case of interest to surveyors, valuers and other property professionals, a theme park which suffered a dramatic drop in trade following a rollercoaster crash has failed to convince the Upper Tribunal (UT) that it deserves a reduction in its business rates.

Five passengers were badly injured in the crash, which received nationwide publicity. In the aftermath, the park’s owner said that visitor numbers had fallen sharply. Traffic flow on roads around the park had dropped by 27.5 per cent and local businesses which depended on park visitors for their trade had also suffered. The owner argued that, in those circumstances, the park’s rateable value – £6,625,000 in the 2010 Rating List – should be reduced.

A local authority valuation officer, however, disagreed. In challenging that decision before the UT, the owner argued that it was entitled to a reduction by virtue of Paragraph 2(7)(d) of Schedule 6 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988. It was submitted that the change in circumstances arising from the crash was physically manifest within the rateable property and in the locality.

In dismissing the owner’s arguments, however, the UT noted that it had accepted full responsibility for the crash and had pleaded guilty in the Crown Court to breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. It was plain that the crash, and the public’s reaction to it, were caused by the manner in which the park was operated. The health and safety failings were personal attributes of the owner, as occupier of the park, and had nothing to do with the characteristics of the rateable property.

In giving guidance for the future, the UT ruled that circumstances that might give rise to a reduction in rateable value generally have to concern an intrinsic characteristic of the rateable property. A reduction in road traffic in the locality caused by a change in public attitudes to thrill rides as a result of the crash did not fall into that category.