Planning blunder halts panda enclosure work


By Matty Sutton

An artist’s impression of the enclosure

WORK on the panda enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo has been halted by officials after zoo bosses forgot to apply for planning permission, it has emerged.

Zoo officials said the turmoil caused by recent suspensions and a vote of no confidence in ex-chair Donald Emslie had led to the oversight.

The chief executive Hugh Roberts, who was appointed to the post three weeks ago, took responsibility for the error and said the zoo was to make all necessary efforts to get the building work going again.

He said a senior official had told the zoo last week that it needed to submit its plans immediately, and that work will have to stop in the mean time.

He said:

“We should have applied for planning permission a few weeks ago. The original design didn’t require planning permission, but we needed to do more than originally thought.

“There should have been bells ringing, we should have said

“hang on’, we should have applied, but we didn’t. This has very much slowed things down for us, but we’ll do everything we can to push it [the planning application] through quickly.

“We are now doing everything in line with what the council want. “

The 250,000 enclosure did not originally need consent as the original aim was to refurbish the old gorilla pen but later development plans included expansion for a nursery for baby bears and the building of a surrounding walkway for visitors.

These add-ons mean extensive permission is now required and have also led to concerns from the Health and Safety Executive about the need for onsite risk assessments.

Mr Roberts said:

“We’re not stopping all work but we can’t carry on at the same pace.

“Clearly this isn’t the best thing for the zoo, but everyone makes the occasional mistake. We’ll pick up, we’ll move on and we’ll sort it out. “

Gary Wilson, director of business operations, who last week returned to the zoo about being suspended following

“malicious and unfounded’ allegations against him, is to drive the project forward and get everything back on track.

“Gary Wilson is on the case.’ Mr Roberts said.

Mr Roberts said the arrival of the pandas would not be affected by the slip up.

“The date of July has always been an internal date, and that is when we could feasibly be ready for the pandas. I don’t think the project will be affected by this setback. “

“We are hoping this will take no more than two weeks to resolve, but we can’t bully the planning department into action.

“We’ve been carrying out regular risk assessments but we are talking to the Health and Safety Executive about risk assessments.

“They have contacted us about that. We’re handling any concerns they might have and we are meeting with them.

“We believe there have been over sights when it comes to formalities but everything is as it should have been on a practical level.

“We would usually submit a planning application for every development at the zoo as a mark of good faith. “

He said the decision to expand beyond the original plan was due to the anticipated visitor capacity, the need for disabled access and to create a better visitor experience.

“The plans and design are compliant with current regulations and in line with other structures in the zoo park.

“We are confident that there should be no problem in planning consent being granted. “

Councillor Tom Buchanan, the city’s economic development leader, said:

“We are very keen to support the zoo in whatever developments are required. “