Lightwater Valley owners to look at Ultimate

The Ultimate, Lightwater Valley

The chief executive of Lightwater Valley’s new owners has told RideRater that the company will look at various options relating to the Ultimate rollercoaster.

Anne Ackord, CEO of the Brighton Pier Group (BPG) said that the 1.4-mile ride would be “looked at” in due course.

The Ultimate remains at Lightwater Valley but has not operated since 2019 after being mothballed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, Lightwater Valley’s former owners confirmed a strategic shift to concentrating on the family market, withdrawing thrill rides including the Ultimate and Raptor Attack rollercoasters.

In was announced on Thursday that the BPG had acquired Lightwater Valley in a deal worth up to £5 million.

“We haven’t ruled anything out at all,” Ms Ackford said in relation to the Ultimate, which was the world’s longest rollercoaster at its opening in 1991.

“The sellers had not had time to practice the [family-oriented] strategy, so it has not been tested,” she said.

The Ultimate, Lightwater Valley
The Ultimate opened in 1991 and was the world’s longest rollercoaster until 2000

“There is a place in the market for this type of park, or we would not have purchased it. Our aim is to improve it and make it an enjoyable experience for everyone that comes here.

“[The Ultimate] is not dead in the water. It needs some work doing on it, [but] we are more than conscious of its iconic status.

“If we can do something with it, then we will. Obviously safety has got to be the priority, so in due course we will have a look at it and make sure it complies with modern standards.

Ms Ackord described the Ultimate as “quite fascinating” and “quite a feature”. She said: “It is quite unique. There are options to shorten it a little bit [or] to change its track.”

“You wouldn’t want something that large in your back garden and not be able to use it, would you?”

Different age groups

Ms Ackord said that the BPG would be looking at the park’s new family-based model to see how it will work, while not committing to necessarily maintaining it going forward.

“I think there are lots of ways you can cater for all markets and all age groups,” she said.

“There is lots of clever virtual reality and artificial intelligence stuff these days, not necessarily using big rollercoasters.

“There are lots of different ways we can cater for different age groups and different people.”

Ms Ackord said that the BPG had first looked at the prospect of acquiring Lightwater Valley prior to the first COVID-19 lockdown in March last year.

Lightwater Valley
The BPG acquired Lightwater Valley in a deal worth up to £5 million

“There was a bit of a gap between us first seeing it and then getting into serious negations,” she said.

Once those negotiations had begun, the deal to take over the park took about ten weeks to complete.

Ms Ackford said that Brighton Palace Pier was “very busy” lately and that it had the benefits of being an open space amidst COVID-19.

“Considering what we are going through it is doing very well,” she said.

“Theme parks are great fun. We’ve spent an enormous amount of time and energy throughout our industry keeping them safe and we just hope that people keep coming back to them.”

‘Outrageous’ Covid policies

Ms Ackord is a firm critic of the UK government’s policies of restrictions and lockdowns associated with COVID-19, particularly their stop-start nature.

The government recently announced a four week delay on the lifting of all restrictions related to the pandemic in England, which Ms Ackord describes as “outrageous”.

“We’ve all been conscious from the very beginning in the hospitality and leisure industry of doing everything we can to be Covid-safe.

“Every company, whether its a theme park, bar or restaurant have spent a fortune on sanitising, different measures and staff training – you name it.

She added that “probably billions” had been spent across the industry on responding to changing government guidance.

COVID-19 vaccine

As well as Brighton Pier, Ms Ackord’s company owns several bars among its portfolio.

“We’ve done everything we were asked to. We were subject to a ridiculous 10pm lockdown closure period.

“It was madness, because all that did was make everyone drink as much as they could and then all fall out onto the street at the same time.”

Ms Ackford criticised the on-off nature of government restrictions, saying that businesses are accumulating significant debt as they prepare for reopening and then subsequently have to delay.

“I think the government has treated our industry absolutely disgracefully, and that’s not to say we didn’t support lockdowns where they helped.

“We supported what we believed would help keep people’s lives safe. We were fighting for people’s jobs, their futures and their mental health.”

Ms Ackord said the country had to live with COVID-19, and that endless lockdowns and restrictions were “increasing poverty, increasing debt and decreasing mental health”.

“If vulnerable people are vaccinated, [then] surely that should be the end of the story,” she added.