Merlin tax cut plea rejected after crash deters visitors

Alton Towers’ owner reportedly lost a claim to pay less tax after visitor numbers fell, following a rollercoaster crash in which two teenagers lost a leg.

Merlin Entertainments had asked for a review of its £4 million business rates bill, claiming that visitors had been put off the rides.

Leah Washington, then 17, and Vicky Balch, then 19, had partial leg amputations as a result of the crash on the park’s Smiler rollercoaster (pictured) in June 2015. Three other passengers were seriously injured when their train smashed into a stationary test carriage.

The Staffordshire theme park’s owner compared the public’s reaction to thrill rides after the crash to concerns about flying following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, The Times reported.

The company told a valuation tribunal last month that the crash had led to a change in attitude to thrill rides in general, and at Alton Towers in particular.

Gary Garland, president of the Valuation Tribunal Service, said that although fewer people were visiting the park it was not known to what extent this was a result of changing attitude to thrill rides or the weather, better alternatives, pricing or a possible lack of confidence in the park’s owners.

He said that the tribunal had received no evidence that thrill rides at smaller parks had suffered a similar fall in visitor numbers.

Merlin Entertainments was fined £5 million in September 2016 for “catastrophic” safety failures that led to the crash. The company pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Merlin Entertainments’ chief executive Nick Varney had urged Chancellor Philip Hammond in March last year to delay an increase in business rates. The company said that its business rates were likely to rise by as much as 50% by 2020.