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The Smiler: reality and rebuke – judgement on business rates appeal

The Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) has delivered its judgement in a case involving the The Smiler ride at Alton Towers.

In Merlin Entertainments Group Ltd v Wayne Cox (VO) [2018] UKUT 0406 (LC) the Tribunal considered an appeal made in respect of Alton Towers in Staffordshire. On 2 June 2015 the “Smiler” (the world’s first multi-inversion rollercoaster) crashed, resulting in serious injury to five passengers, including two people who tragically required leg amputations. Alton Towers closed for five days while investigations were carried out, but the Smiler ride did not reopen until the start of the following season, on 19 March 2016.

Merlin appealed the rateable value applying to Alton Towers ultimately seeking a refund in non-domestic rates because of a downturn in trade following the crash. But the Tribunal refused the appeal on all counts. It said that in undertaking a rating valuation regard has to be had to the actual conditions affecting the property at the relevant time, but not to any element of value attributable to the special skill, or industry, or failing of the actual occupier. In the judgement it was pointed out that purely economic changes in a ratepayers volume in trade during the currency of a rating list is irrelevant.

Merlin had accepted full responsibility for the accident and pleaded guilty in the Crown Court to offences involving breaches of s.3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The Tribunal said that it is plain that the crash and the public’s reaction to it are matters concerned with the way in which the leisure park business was operated. The failings under the 1974 Act, or any other failings, which resulted in the crash taking place, are attributes of the actual occupier of Alton Towers. It said such personal attributes are not characteristics to be considered in setting the rateable value.

And the rebuke… Once again the Tribunal has had to spell out the role of the expert and the problem with contingency fees saying that in this case “we are surprised and dismayed that the appellant’s team did not raise these issues with the Tribunal before the hearing”. Once again the Tribunal has referred matters to the President of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors to consider the implications of what has happened in this case. So rating surveyors can expect to hear more from the RICS.

The full decision can be found here: http://landschamber.decisions.tribunals.gov.uk//judgmentfiles/j1466/RA-24-2018.pdf

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