Thorpe Park submitted a planning application for a "unique new themed attraction, housed within a building" on 16th October 2014; permission was subsequently granted by Runnymede Borough Council on 9th January 2015.
What could this be? Having not been mentioned before in the Medium Term Development Plan - and with many expecting the next big development to be the proposed 2015 'coaster - the submission was something of a surprise. Set to open on May 6th 2016, the proposed "dark ride" location is to occupy an area of 2,807 square metres, housed in a building 10m tall (itself 2,438 square metres).
The new attraction is due to sited next to the X pyramid, occupying the old Arena space and surrounding area (the Arena being "currently under-used and of limited value to Thorpe Park in its present form"). The large concrete blocks of seating in the Arena are to be completely demolished. Chief Ranger's Carousel, a food and beverage outlet, and the surrounding Arena midway game stalls are all also set to be removed to make way for the new ride.
The proposed building - roughly half the height of the X pyramid - is due to have "a pre-show, retail, back of house and plant areas with external themed plaza and entrance features, [and] adjacent covered queuelines". Excitingly, the application states that "the attraction concept will be the first of its kind... due to the commercially sensitive nature of the development the detailed internal concept will not be released before the launch".
The building is planned to be "constructed from a variety of materials with a warehouse themed appearance, using similar materials and finishes to those used elsewhere in the Park. [It] will contain a number of themed areas on its elevations which will comprise graffiti art and painted wood".
The queue line is due to be located outside the building, with a canopy covering the pathway. An entrance feature is "proposed in the style of a large gate with a signage zone above". In addition, the proposals show a "themed feature within the plaza area... [that will] not exceed 8m in height or 4m in width/length".
Interestingly, in the application the Park sought to emphasise the need for continual development of new attractions to maintain its economic viability and "improve the visitor offer". It notes that the Park "generates a £13.5m annual wage bill with £13.3m [spent] on supplier expenditure and £6.3m on capital expenditure... supporting some 1,389 jobs. The annual visitor spending in Thorpe Park is estimated at £45m, with £13.4m off-site expenditure by overnight visitors and £4.1m by day visitors". Impressive stats, which reflect the fact that the Park is growing into a nationally significant tourist attraction.
On 7th and 9th April 2015, Thorpe Park submitted two further sets of plans as amendments to the original application. The plans showed only small differences to the originals, but from them we can glean the following:
- The ride is codenamed Project Whitechapel, or WC-16
- The plaza theming structure is to be themed as a tower, in a similar style to the main building
- The building has reduced in space, albeit only marginally (from 2,438 sqm to 2,306 sqm)
- The "hole" in the ground in middle of the building has been reduced from 3m in depth to 2.05m
- The section of queueline with cover (from the sun / rain) has been reduced (from 369 sqm to 198 sqm)
Contained within the revised plans was also a sneak-peak at the possible layout inside the building. The below interpretation of the queueline layout is only a best-guess, but if true, shows that there will be a station with onload and offload points. This suggests a tracked dark-ride type system:
Aside from the "Dark Secret" and "Island is Changing" boards that appeared early on in the attraction's construction, very little was originally revealed by the Park about the ride. On 7th August 2015, a new minisite appeared at mindswanted.co.uk - but with only vague "pupils dilating" imagery and a "register your interest" sign-up form, this also gave us very little to work with!
More clarity came on 26th October 2015, when the Park put out a press release revealing illusionist Derren Brown as the architect of the new ride. The release detailed that:
- WC16 will be the largest investment to date at Thorpe Park, topping The Swarm's £18 million investment in 2012
- Derren has been working on this project for 3 years, in collaboration with the Park
- Over 1000 "specialists and experts" have been involved in the creation of the attraction
- The whole experience will last a total of 13 minutes
Both Derren and Thorpe Park have since gone on record as saying that WC16 will "pave the way" for the future of Theme Park attractions [a bold claim, to say the least!], as a complete "re-imagining" of the traditional seaside Ghost Train. See more in the ride announcement video, below:
With the overall theme given away by the revealed name, "Derren Brown's Ghost Train", we can still only speculate on what may be contained inside the themed building; a virtual reality experience is certainly on the cards. The comparatively low height of the building at 10m maximum rules many more thrilling ride hardware options out. Having Derren Brown on board though is certainly exciting - this website is a huge fan of Derren's work, especially his incomparable live show. If Derren can bring some of that magic and showmanship to the Island Like No Other, we're in for a treat.
What is certain is that the 2016 dark ride represents a significant further investment from Merlin in the future of the Park - and we look forward to riding in May!
Early April 2015
Late April 2015
Early August 2015
Late August 2015
To view all of the MTDP submissions, find them at Runnymede Borough Council here.