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We nearly had a theme park in central London, but it ran out of power

There had been big plans to transform (bad pun) Battersea Power Station

What’s your feeling about theme parks? Are they like Marmite – you either love them or hate them? Me? I’m a fan, though I would own up to not being keen on rollercoasters. I’m not too clever with heights.

That said, I’ve been on some. When my kids were young their mum and I would take them to Orlando in Florida. I used to pretend I was the good dad for taking them there, but the reality is that before they came along I had developed a love of theme parks and it was great to have an excuse to revisit them.

The one that convinced me that heights and I didn’t mix was Disney’s Tower of Terror. In essence, the elevator takes you high up, the door opens to reveal just how high you are above the theme park and they it drop you – safely – I should make it clear! It was all I could do to maintain a brave face in front of my children but the reality was that I was cacking myself. Love theme parks, but the rides need to be a fair bit closer to terra firma.

London or, more accurately, the areas on the fringes of the capital do quite well for theme parks. We have Chessington’s World of Adventures, Thorpe Park and Legoland. All lie within a reasonable distance of the M25. But are you aware that, before the millennium, London came close to having another theme park right in the middle of the city, not far from Victoria Station? It would have been at Battersea Power Station just across the Thames from Victoria.

The power station was actually two nearly identical buildings, the first of which (Station A) was decommissioned in 1975. Station B was taken out of action in 1983. After they were closed it was decided that the buildings should be retained and repurposed keeping their looks intact. Later they were listed for their architectural significance. Couldn’t really see what the authorities were on about myself.

Anyhow, in the late 1980s a competition was held in which organisations were invited to pitch ideas about how the buildings could be made financially viable. Seven pitches came in and they were whittled down to the theme park idea.

One of my previous companies played a small PR role for the winning bid. We produced a newspaper that went out to local residents attempting to quell fears that the theme park would cause unwanted traffic congestion in the area surrounding BPS. The people behind the bid were the then owners of Alton Towers in Staffordshire. So they knew how to put a them park together.

The fears about the traffic were overcome and building work started but the buildings threw up so many structural problems that the money had to be poured in and not a lot came out. Eventually the idea was abandoned.

How would it have looked? Well see the main picture. I’m grateful to Accor Hotels who scoured the archives to uncover plans for some weird and wonderful theme parks that were never finished, bringing them to life through new concept art. In total, they reimagined five amazing theme parks around the world that might have been. But first, let’s tell you a little more about Battersea.

The Battersea

The plan was to transform the power station into a huge glass-roofed atrium, inspired by the Great Exhibition, housing a six-floor entertainment complex. Each floor was to be themed like a different continent, with digital projections on the ceiling mimicking the weather outside, and indoor hot air balloon rides and giant glass elevator shafts to transport people around. There were also plans for the biggest aquarium in the world, complete with mini-submarine rides, as well as Europe’s largest ice rink, waterfalls, zero-gravity simulators, 4D cinemas, log flumes and botanical gardens. Finally, there was the “Battersea Bullet”, a bright yellow high-speed train which would run from London Victoria station, direct to The Battersea, with LCD screens on the windows to give the illusion that guests were travelling at light speed!

Instead, now it is due to completely open in 2022 as a shopping and leisure complex. More on this in the future. It will be served by a branch line station off the Northern Line.

And what of the other near misses uncovered by Accor? Here they are:

Six Flags Dubai

Originally scheduled to open this year, Six Flags Dubai was set to be the latest addition to Dubai’s growing list of attractions. Six Flags is known around the world for its huge, stomach churning rides, and Dubai’s park would be no different. According to initial announcements, the park would have had bigger, better and faster rides than anywhere else, with a pledge to build the world’s biggest roller coaster. People would be able to see the park from miles around, with LED lights on the roller coasters, huge spotlights beaming up into the sky, and a giant six-tower spinning sculpture dedicated to the six flags that stood over Dubai.

Beastly Kingdom

A cancelled Disney plan, Beastly Kingdom would have been an extension of Florida’s Animal Kingdom, but with mythical beasts instead of real animals. The park was going to be split in two, with visitors getting to visit a dark and light side. To the left, visitors would find a dark, ominous forest, with winding pathways littered with charred suits of armour and abandoned weapons, all leading towards the menacing “Dragon’s Tower”.  

While to the right, things would take a brighter, more welcoming turn, with crystal clear streams, lush, green gardens and gorgeous fields of flowers. Greek temples would house a family-friendly ride based on Disney’s Fantasia, with ballet-dancing hippos, crocodiles and ostriches.However, the park’s crowning glory was to be the Quest for the Unicorn, a huge, rambling hedge maze, where guests would be challenged to find five golden idols, which would help unlock the hidden unicorn at the heart of the maze.

Space City USA

Back in the 1960s, Huntsville, Alabama, had plans for its own theme park, set to rival Disneyworld. Built around a distinct sci-fi theme, visitors to Space City would be transported into the future, with a sprawling skyway ride, jet cars and flying saucers, a glass-bottomed boat, a lunar restaurant shaped like a giant mushroom, and even a miniature volcano. However, as well as enjoying a glimpse into the future, guests could also explore the past. Taking a trip in their very own time machine, they’d get the chance to visit various themed areas, including dinosaurs in the Lost World, as well as the Land of Oz, the Old South and a simulated moon colony.

Miami Interama

Over the years, various groups of developers have attempted to get plans for a permanent World’s Fair in Miami approved. Interama, which is short for “Inter-American Cultural and Trade Center”, was to be part theme park, part science, trade and culture exhibition, built on 1,600 acres of bayfront land in North Miami. The futuristic metropolis would have featured a 12,000-seat floating amphitheatre, as well as a soaring, 1,000-foot Tower of Freedom, rising majestically out of the bay. Visitors would access the tower via winding underwater conveyor-belt tubes, or space-age capsules propelled along cables in the sky.

Looking to explore some attractions throughout the capital? Take a look at Accord’s range of hotels in London.

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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

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