People power helps to scrap Chester rainforest plan

Reporter:

Laura Jones

CONCERNED residents and community leaders have persuaded Chester Zoo bosses to scrap plans for a second hotel and a garden centre from their proposed £225 million ‘Eden Project of the North’.

Increased pressure has caused zoo bosses to axe the two major developments from plans for the ‘Heart of Africa’ Biodome which will be situated up to the edge of the A41 from Flag Lane North to the Backford Dip outside Chester.

The revised plans for the its Natural Vision project have been sent to Cheshire West and Chester Council and plans for a biodome a third larger than Cornwall's Eden Project and a themed hotel are still set to go ahead.

Residents in the Upton area received a letter from the zoo about the changes on Friday last week.

Upton Cllr Jill Houlbrook said: “I am so pleased the zoo management team has listened to local people and made changes to the plans that will mitigate against the concerns raised. Although there have been objections to the plans for the zoo,
Cllr Pat Lott and I are aware that the proposals to develop the zoo are supported by many people. Hopefully the amended plans and the letter of explanation sent to local residents will bring the reassurance people seek.”

The Natural Vision project will measure 180 metres long by 90 metres wide and 34 metres tall at its highest point, and will be home to an African rainforest-themed sanctuary for a band of gorillas, a large troop of chimpanzees, okapi and other rare and threatened species.

The application for a 150-bed wildlife themed hotel on land near the A41 will also stay in the plans.

Simon Mann, the zoo’s development director, said: “We have listened carefully and respectfully to the comments and considerations of the local community and local councillors and on that basis have removed the proposal for a second hotel.

“The application does still allow for a single themed hotel which is a fundamental part of the Natural Vision project. The expansion of the zoo will contribute to raising the profile of the City of Chester as a longer-stay tourism destination, encouraging visitors to stay for a weekend rather than visit for a day.

“The hotel would also link with the proposed Futures education centre, which will establish the zoo as a centre of excellence for education and training in conservation, animal welfare and sustainability. However, we appreciate the proposals for a second hotel did cause some concern locally; and, following extensive negotiations, we agreed to remove that and the proposed garden centre from the plan.

“Throughout this process we have been fully engaged with the community and its elected representatives and would hope this move allays their concerns. We would also like to thank all parties concerned for their support during this process.”

A date is yet to be set by Cheshire West and Chester Council's planning authority to discuss the revised application.

See full story in the Leader

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