Alton Towers 'temporary' outdoor stage here to stay as long-term plans drawn up

Alton Towers will be allowed to use a 'temporary' outdoor stage for a further 18 months - despite concerns over heritage harm. The resort was given retrospective permission for the stage for outdoor performances in 2021, after the government relaxed planning rules to help historic visitor attractions bounce back from the pandemic.

With the original three-year permission due to expire this August, Alton Towers submitted an application to extend it by five years up to 2029. The stage is located on the front lawn, which looks out onto the Grade II*-listed towers across the lake, while there is also permission for a winter site in Fountain Square, near the Hex ride entrance.

Alton Towers said the stage had been a popular attraction, and had operated without attracting any noise complaints since 2021. But planners at Staffordshire Moorlands District Council noted the impact the stage was having on the historic setting and that the situation with Covid-19 had changed since 2021. They also considered that a total period of eight years would be 'tantamount to a level of permanency'.

READ: Disabled people face 'too long waits' for Stoke-on-Trent council home adaptations - A review will look into why Stoke-on-Trent City Council is failing to carry out works on time

READ: New council rules for spending £217m a year will help 'keep the Stoke pound in Stoke' - Cabinet members at Stoke-on-Trent City Council have approved a new procurement code

The council instead agreed to an 18-month extension up to February 2026, giving Alton Towers time to find a long-term solution for its outdoor staging.

According to a covering letter included in Alton Towers' planning application, the ongoing use of the stage 'will enable guests to continue to benefit from its shows and events and help Alton Towers Resort to continue to attract visitors to the site, which has wider economic benefits to the area'. Alton Towers has also confirmed to the council that it is drawing up 'alternative longer term solutions' for the staging.

The district council says that when it considered the original application in 2021 'it was very much against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic' and the desire to support Alton Towers recover through the use of a new outdoor attraction that would allow social distancing. A conservation officer says that recent photographs of the stage site 'show a very damaged and tired area' and that there are 'unsightly conditions unbecoming to a historic designed parkland'.

The decision report states: "For the reasons outline above there is heritage harm. It is considered to be at the lower end of less than substantial but it is harm nevertheless. In this case it is difficult to attribute public benefit to outweigh the harm.

"When the council considered the original application in 2021 it was very much against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic and trying to support the applicant in their recovery plan by providing this outdoor attraction which enabled social distancing.

"Circumstances are however now changed. The Covid pandemic has passed. The temporary rights have ended and government advice is very clear, that it will rarely be justifiable to grant a second temporary permission.

"However being mindful...that the applicant is in the process of preparing a long term plan to recover from Covid which will consider alternative longer term solutions for the staging, rather than reject the application, a further 18 months from the expiry of the existing permission be given to 15th February 2026. The applicant is now agreeable to this."

In addition to the 18-month extension, Alton Towers has also secured permission to use the stage until 9pm between September 1 and November 7, to support its Oktoberfest event, as well as some changes to conditions relating to noise. And a new condition will require Alton Towers to move the stage location to the winter site between November 16 and the end of February, in line with a conservation officer recommendation.

Alton Towers says that the photographs the conservation officer used did not show the stage area in use, but as it was being prepared for the start of the season.

A spokesperson for Alton Towers Resort said: “The stage area has been a much-welcomed addition to our entertainment line-up for guests, adding additional value and experiences for those visiting during our events. We consider that it sits sympathetically alongside all other elements of the resort which are in close proximity to it.

"Alton Towers Resort is committed to refreshing and diversifying its offer to ensure that it continues to attract the next generation of visitors in an increasingly competitive market. The resort is immensely proud of the role it plays as custodians of the historical artefacts throughout.

"This is always a key consideration in how the site is managed, remaining sympathetic to its surroundings. We very much welcome the temporary extension to the stage into 2025 and what this allows us to deliver for our guests over the year ahead."

Sign up to our main daily newsletter here and get all the latest news straight to your inbox for FREE