Zoo’s panda project hit by new blow as staff signed off sick

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By Kirsty Topping

 

An artist’s impression of the enclosure

TWO key members of Edinburgh Zoo’s panda enclosure project have been signed off on sick leave, it has been revealed.

A zoo spokeswoman confirmed the staff were off ill, but could not say why.

The zoo has insisted that the project is still on track despite the illness, and despite the zoo

“forgetting’ to get planning permission for the enclosure.

The spokeswoman said:

“Two leading members of staff are on sick leave at present. We cannot confirm the reasons for this as this is a confidential matter but we take our duties as an employer seriously and continue to support our staff. “

It has been claimed by one source that the staff had been working excessive hours in order to get the project completed on schedule but the spokeswoman denied this.

She said:

“Staff have not been made to work unacceptable hours.

“Some staff have had the opportunity to work overtime and have done so, but the number of hours has been at their own discretion and in line with the working time directive. “

The 250,00 project has been designed by the zoo’s own team and is being built by their staff, with occasional assistance from agency staff for more specialized tasks.

Work on the project ran into trouble after it was decided to expand the enclosure in order to accommodate a nursery for baby bears and a larger viewing walkway for visitors.

Yesterday it was revealed that in the upheaval caused by the suspensions of several staff members and the vote of no confidence in ex-chair Donald Emslie, zoo bosses had forgotten to submit the updated plans to the council’s planning department.

It was also revealed that the Health and Safety Executive had raised concerns about risk assessment on the site.

A spokeswoman for the HSE confirmed that they were woring with the zoo in relation to a specific complaint.

She said:

“The HSE have been in contact with Edinburgh Zoo following a complaint about work taking place.

“We are working with them to address those issues raised which fall within our remit. “

Last week Gary Wilson, the zoo’s Director of Business Operations, returned to work following suspension over

“malicious and unfounded’ allegations.

Newly appointed chief executive Hugh Roberts has said he does not expect the planning blunder to delay the project or the arrival of the pandas, expected later this year.

He said the changes to the design were necessary to cope with the predicted number of visitors, the need for disabled access and to improve the experience for visitors. He said he did not anticipate any problems in gaining planning permission.

 

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