Talking West Cheshire

Councillors recommend that Chester Zoo should be given planning permission for ambitious plans

17 September 2010

Cheshire West and Chester Council has recommended that world-famous Chester Zoo should be given planning permission for major proposals which include a Biodome building and a hotel – all in the Green Belt.

The recommendations from the Strategic Planning Committee include 36 conditions and will now be sent to the Secretary of State for final approval.

Phase One of the works includes the Heart of Africa Biodome building, Heart of Africa entrance village, new vehicular access from the A41 for visitors going into the zoo, creation of a new entrance and a remodelling 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, new animal paddocks and gardens.

A report before Councillors stated that the zoo wants to increase its 1.28 million visitors to 2 million by 2022. It is considered the UK’s leading zoo and is independently rated within the top six zoos in Europe and top 15 in the world.

Its long term aim is to turn the zoo more into a ‘resort’ than simply a day trip destination, encouraging longer-stay tourism and an increase in visitors from outside the region.

All the proposals are part of a Masterplan for the redevelopment and expansion of the zoo up to 2024.

The Biodome would be the largest single building of its kind in the world and Councillor Stuart Parker said: “I can imagine that the design of the Biodome would blend in and become ‘cloud – like’ from a distance, more so than any of the pylons blotting the landscape.

“We must see the bigger picture here as this is going to be fantastic for Chester and the bigger sub-region. It certainly outweighs negative factors.”

Committee member and Upton Councillor Hilarie McNae put forward the views of residents and said: “Travelling along the A41 between Backford and Upton and looking towards the north - that is, towards the land owned by the Zoo - you currently have the feeling of being in the open rural countryside – in other words the Green Belt is working.

“The proposed construction of a roadside hotel will puncture this feeling of countryside and many residents believe firmly that this part of the application cannot be justified.”

Councillor Brian Crowe told the meeting: “I’m broadly supportive of the proposals but I am concerned about Badgers Walk residents who will be dwarfed and overlooked by the Biodome.

“There needs to be a suitable degree of screening there and even if the project isn’t started immediately a whole growing season will be lost.

“A local forum should be established involving residents from Badgers Walk, the Zoo and a local member to facilitate a good neighbours scheme.”

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.

Recommending approval the report, by Nial Casselden, Principal Planning Officer, 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.