TowersStreet News

Alton Towers ruins behind a paywall – our thoughts

Sunday 30 June 2024 19:55
Updated 13th July 2024

For the first time since Alton Towers became an amusement park, and breaking over forty years of tradition, guests will be forced to pay an additional fee to access the iconic ruins which give the park its name. Guests will now only be allowed access as part of supervised tour groups, dramatically reducing the amount of people who are allowed to experience this important heritage asset.

While Guided Tours of the house and gardens are a welcome addition, and are good value at £10, they have come at the cost of having the ruins free to explore. This seems like a backward step for the guest experience at Alton Towers. Guided tours would be successful whether or not the ruins were otherwise open, so it’s unclear why the ruins need to be closed the rest of the time.

At TowersStreet, we are passionate about ensuring everyone has an opportunity to experience these exceptional spaces, not just those who are able to pay an up charge.

The ruins, a former year around attraction for the park, will be restricted to only being open for around 25 hours across the entirety of the current season. Limits on the group sizes for each tour will also mean that less than 500 guests are scheduled to be allowed to look around the ruins in 2024. This is a far cry from the access that has been granted for the past forty years or more, where typically the ruins were included as part of the park ticket price and open to all guests, often for at least 200 days a year.

In recent years, the ruins have rarely been accessible to guests, having apparently closed as part of the park’s response to the pandemic but then almost never reopening since. The preceding decade had already seen access significantly reduced by increasingly early closures of the ruins throughout the season “in preparation” for the park’s Halloween event, Scarefest.

A statement from Bianca Samut, Divisional Director of Alton Towers, explained the decision to limit access to the ruins, saying that:

allowing people to roam freely comes with risks and challenges around misdemeanour and unauthorised access to areas signposted as not open to the public (mostly due to uneven surfaces, dimly lit spaces, and aging artefacts).

This is quite a turnaround from the park’s previous stance, with seemingly little change in customer behaviour to prompt such draconian restrictions.

It is only three years ago that Alton Towers submitted a planning application to the council, which stated that they were intending to include additional parts of the Towers (most notably the West Wing, which had been closed to the public since the 90s) as part of a revamped “Heritage Tour” within the Towers. Under these plans the long-running “Heritage Tour” would have continued to be a self-guided tour, where guests could explore at their leisure.

In this application, no mention was made of any security concerns around letting guests to freely roam the parts of the house which it is now proposed to restrict access to. Equally, no additional measures were suggested ‘due to uneven surfaces, dimly lit spaces, and aging artefacts’ to increase security, or make the ruins safe for guests to access.

It is important to note that exploring the ruins has, historically, been a safe activity. The areas of the Towers that have traditionally been open to the public mostly have concrete floors, which were installed in the late 1970s for the very purpose of making the ruins accessible to the public and were therefore designed to provide level access throughout.

Similarly, at the same time, purpose built wooden staircases were also added to allow safe traversal between floors – several of which have been used as part of Scare Maze routes over the past decade. Even in the areas of the ruins where original floors remain, these can be found in the service areas of the Towers, where the earls’ servants carried out their work and level surfaces were the norm. Even now, the floors in these areas are no more uneven than many of the queue lines found across the park.

There is no clarity on why the ruins are now considered to be unsafe for guests to access unsupervised, despite being in no worse state than many of the other heritage ruins found around the country, enjoyed by millions of visitors each year without incident.

It is simply not enough for the park and company management team to claim that they are passionate custodians of the national heritage assets they are responsible for, while actively reducing the general public’s access to this heritage.

It is not acceptable that, with the exception of Scarefest attractions, the ruins have now been closed to the public for the best part of four years with no suitable explanation for why they were not fully reopened after covid lockdowns. It is equally unacceptable for the park to expect their customers to be content with now being allowed in to the ruins for a one-hour time-slot, providing you happen to be visiting on one of the 24 days that tours are available this season, and are willing to pay on top of your entrance ticket for this access.

It cannot be stressed enough that the Grade II* ruins of Alton Towers and the surrounding Grade I listed Gardens are important national assets. Alton Towers is believed to have once been the largest private residence in the UK, and contains some of the final work of one of our country’s most celebrated architects, A.W.N. Pugin. Alton Towers is a listed structure because it is an important part of our country’s heritage and was protected to be enjoyed and appreciated for future generations. We are that future generation, and in the case of Alton Towers, a custodian that actively minimises the public access to the heritage they look after is simply not doing the job expected of them.

For over 40 years, the public has been trusted to roam the ruins of Alton Towers as part of their park ticket, with little to no issue, and there is little reason why that tradition shouldn’t continue for the next 40 years. It is time for Merlin, and the park management team, to act more like the ‘passionate custodians’ they claim to be, and reconsider this significant misstep, remove these restrictions, and once again allow open access to this important part of our country’s heritage.