Saved from Oblivion

Date:

03/08/2004

Author:

Nigel Bunyan

Source:

Daily Telegraph

Matter:

Roper - Alton Towers

The owners of Alton Towers, Britain's most popular theme park, were ordered by a judge yesterday to reduce the scream count on one of their leading white-knuckle rides.

"Oblivion" induced such terror that it constituted a statutory noise nuisance for local residents, he ruled.

Deputy District Judge Timothy Gascoigne has given the theme park's managers until Nov 1 to draw up plans to reduce noise levels. If they fail, a noise abatement order will come into effect.

He made his ruling after Stephen and Suzanne Roper, whose home in Farley, Staffs, stands in the shadow of Oblivion, complained that the ride was making their lives a misery.

In a private prosecution the couple cited as nuisances not only the screams from Oblivion, but also the blasts from fireworks and the noise from pop concerts, a blaring Tannoy system and theme park traffic.

The judge, sitting at Stafford Crown Court, visited their home before ruling in their favour on all but the traffic noise. He drew particular attention to Oblivion, saying that its fundamental problem appeared to be its design.

This results in 16 people peering over a precipice before their car plummets 200ft into a hole in the ground. Just before the descent, they are played a "Don't look down" message.

"Obviously the message is designed to heighten the white-knuckle effect," said Judge Gascoigne. "But this induces the screaming."

The fact that the ride was clearly visible from the Ropers' home seemed "at odds" with planning rules. During an earlier hearing before North Staffordshire magistrates court, Stephen Hockman, QC, for the Ropers, said the couple believed that Alton Towers had breached the 1990 Environmental Protection Act.

Reginald Shaw, a parish councillor who founded the committee that operates as a go-between for the park and its neighbours, said residents had achieved "no success whatsoever" in trying to control visual intrusion, noise and traffic.

He claimed that Alton Towers had not told the liaison committee about "very, very major" planning applications for new roller-coasters.

After yesterday's hearing Mr Roper, 62, who runs a pottery company, said he was looking forward to enjoying his home and garden again.

"Living next to Alton Towers for the past 25 years has been a misery and, at times, a nightmare. We are delighted our complaint has been taken seriously," he said.

His solicitor, Richard Buxton, said the couple hoped the theme park would rise to the challenge of being a good neighbour "after 25 years of being a rotten one".

A spokesman for Tussauds Theme Parks, which owns Alton Towers, expressed disappointment at the verdict but said the company would work towards a compromise.

It was inevitable that some noise would emanate from such a business, he said.

However, the company had always tried to take into account the needs and concerns of residents. This had led to "very few complaints overall".

Fear factor

The pounds 12 million monster reaches speeds of 68mph. Riders experience a G-force of 4.5, more than astronauts experience during lift-off.

Riders plummet down a 200ft drop, equivalent to jumping off the 16th floor of a building.

The ride lasts for just over two-and-a-half minutes, during which passengers' pulse rates reach more than 180 beats a minute.