Chester Zoo’s proposal for its latest attraction, an extensive African savannah habitat featuring giraffes, zebra, ostriches and antelopes, is set to be discussed by Cheshire West & Chester Council next week, against a mix of objections and support.
The project would see a rebuilding of the Zoo’s Grasslands, to include a range of lodges and safari tents for overnight stays, overlooking the savannah.
The Grasslands development forms part of the 217-acre Natural Visions Masterplan, which included the £40m Islands development opened in 2016.
A planning application has been submitted by landscape architect Gillespies, Darling Associates, BDP and North of England Zoological Society to Cheshire West & Chester Council.
According to planning documents Grasslands will be “a landscape-led project that creates an immersive and distinctive environment, with a number of discrete buildings supporting the visitor and wildlife requirements”.
However, due to its location on Green Belt, on an open field next to Moston Road, the scheme has been criticised by councillors and the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Cllr Jill Houlbrook has described it as “overdevelopment of a greenfield site” with fears the increase in visitors will impact on the highway network.
Campaign for the Protection of Rural England “object on the grounds that the proposal represents inappropriate development in the Green Belt for which very special circumstances have not been demonstrated”.
Local objections said the scheme would have “an urbanising effect on the landscape”, however letters of support were also received, citing “the economic benefits the development would bring to the surrounding area”.
Grasslands is set to include an African Wetlands Aviary with a flock of flamingos and viewing platform, and a large, open African savannah habitat, containing the Rothschild’s giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, ostrich and Roan antelope.
Next to the savannah, the Zoo is planning a Tsavo experience featuring black rhino and painted dogs, and a Rift Valley area where smaller species can be seen among Kopje rocks, including vultures, aardvarks and warthogs.
The project includes a restaurant with views over the savannah, alongside overnight accommodation made up of 28 lodges and 14 tents overlooking a lake, with views of the bachelor giraffe habitat. Darling Associates, formerly Architect CT, designed the overnight accommodation.
Chester Zoo attracts 120,000 visitors each year on education trips, and contains 21,000 animals from 500 species, the majority classed as vulnerable to extinction.
In a report recommending the project for approval at planning committee, the council’s officers acknowledged the issues with building on Green Built, however cited “the unique role the zoo plays within the borough”. The consent has been recommended, subject to an objection from the Environment Agency being withdrawn, which had issues with a special private sewage works being built on the site which contradicted planning policy.
To enable the scheme, the existing zebra and antelope indoor habitats and crane outdoor habitats will be removed and rebuilt, as well as the existing monorail.
Subject to planning consent, completion is targeted for 2022.