Plans to double Chester Zoo approved

Cheshire West & Chester Council has approved Chester Zoo's planning application for a major extension of the attraction on Green Belt land including a biodome and a hotel.

The council's strategic planning committee set 36 conditions and will now send a recommendation for approval to the Secretary of State for a final decision.

Phase one of the works include the 'heart of Africa' biodome building, entrance village, new vehicular access from the A41 for visitors going into the zoo and a remodeling and extension of the car park.

Outline proposals also given the go ahead include a 150 bed hotel near the zoo's existing entrance, new underwater exhibit buildings, animal paddocks and gardens. A report before councillors stated that the zoo wants to increase its 1.28m visitors to 2m by 2022. The zoo at present contains 7,000 animals from around 400 species, and is based on a 50 hectares site. Phase one comprises an extra 33 hectares and the outline submission 55.6 hectares, all on zoo-owned land.

Funding for the project had originally been penciled in from the North West Development Agency but was removed as part of the NWDA's list of cancellations in July .

A spokesman for the zoo today said talks were progressing well with alternative funding partners.

Chester Zoo, a registered conservation charity, is the largest zoo in the UK, welcoming 1.4m visitors a year.

Prof Gordon McGregor Reid, Chester Zoo's director general, said: "The result is the culmination of years of planning, preparation and public consultation and represents a huge milestone for the zoo.

"We will continue to work with the relevant bodies and neighbouring communities throughout the remainder of this process and would thank everyone involved for their support to date."

The Natural Vision application, originally submitted in December last year, includes plans for the heart of Africa biodome, together with expansion of the main entrance and car park, a themed hotel and conservation college. The heart of Africa building will be a tropical ecosystem with an African rainforest-themed sanctuary for a band of gorillas, a large troop of chimpanzees, okapi and other rare and threatened species.

Nial Casselden, principal planning officer at the council, maintained that although the proposal would represent a major encroachment into Green Belt land it was considered that the package of benefits was highly compelling, highly beneficial in a number of different ways and realistically incapable of being replicated on any other site in the Green Belt.

The recommendation for approval was accepted by nine votes to two.

Chester Zoo is advised by Hill Dickinson.

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