Manchester Zoo Land, Rochdale, P. Google Earth
The zoo was earmarked for council-owned land at Hopwood Hall College’s Middleton campus. Credit: Google Earth

Manchester Zoo owner vows to fight on after company dissolved  

Dan Whelan

A company associated with a plan to create a 100-acre animal park in Rochdale has been struck off, but the owner is determined not to give up on the scheme. 

Due to the rigours of Brexit, Covid-19 and multiple personal and family issues, parts of the project have been drastically delayed,” Johnpaul Houston told Place North West. 

“However, we are still committed to bringing the project to life in Manchester, and [we are] working away behind the scenes to deliver the vision.” 

Manchester Zoo Commercial was dissolved earlier this month after planning consultant Barton Willmore lodged a winding-up petition over unpaid fees relating to the zoo project. 

Houston was named as the sole director of the company but he claims the firm’s dissolution will not impact the zoo project. 

Manchester Zoo Commercial was set up in 2017 to control the future retail and catering provision at the zoo but “is not a crucial part of the project right now”, Houston said. 

“We will revisit the need for this structure but for the next period our aims are more community and charity-based.” 

Houston’s attraction, which he planned to fund with £14m of family money, would have “focused on creating an immersive experience, supporting important conservation projects and conducting research to benefit animals both at home and abroad,” according to the Manchester Zoo website, which is still live.  

The plans also proposed educational tie-ins with nearby Hopwood Hall College and a transport interchange at Slattocks. 

A former zookeeper, Houston had been looking at sites around Trafford before striking up discussions with Rochdale.  

He held talks with Rochdale Council about building the zoo across four parcels of council-owned land at Hopwood Hall College’s Middleton campus.  

The council was supportive of the project, according to documents from a discussion about the zoo at a cabinet meeting last February. 

At the time, Rochdale Council leader Allen Brett confirmed the authority was in talks with Houston’s company but that no decisions had been made regarding the transfer of land. 

A planning application for the project was expected before the end of 2020 but never materialised. 

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You have to feel for Barton Willmore in all this… forking out court costs to wind up a company who haven’t paid their fees. Yet its owner claims they will carry on with the project, I hope they have the decency to pay up. I’m sure other consultants will be wary of getting involved in a future project.

By MJ

Yet again the sole director behind this project appears to show a complete disconnect from reality. Neither Rochdale Council or any other GM local authoritiy should indulge this family funded vanity project by giving council owned land

By John

Houston seems to be the only cheetah in the zoo…..living on a different planet!

By Anoy