Bristol Zoo explainer: When will it move, what are the two proposals going head to head for the site and who decides

As Bristol Zoo prepares to move out of the city after 185 years, we take an in-depth look at the two ambitious plans for the historic site

When will Bristol Zoo move?

Bristol Zoo announced last year it would move from its Clifton home to The Wild Place Project, located near junction 17 of the M5 in South Gloucestershire.

The Zoo will close in late 2022 with just over a year to transfer its animals safely to Wild Place and breeding programmes before reopening at Wild Place in early 2024.

The announcement came as a shock, but the move is needed to protect the zoo’s ‘crucial’ conservation work after the challenges of the pandemic - and will also provide a more suitable environment for its many animals, zoo bosses say.

But as a result the future of Bristol Zoo Gardens has now come under the spotlight, with two proposals for its future going head to head.


Who has lodged plans for the future of the site?

The Bristol Zoological Society has put forward its own plans for Bristol Zoo Gardens which its says will preserve the historic site for future generations while providing a funding source for its new zoo at the Wild Place Project.

These plans include a housing development on its West Car Park site along with opening Bristol Zoo Gardens to the public for free.

Our World Bristol has put forward a separate counter-proposal. The collective is founded by film director Stephen Daldry, architect George Ferguson and Stuart Wood, executive director at creative education provider Boomsatsuma. The collective argue that Bristol Zoo Gardens and its West Car Park are ‘too precious’ for housing and have alternative plans for the world’s first augmented-reality zoo there.

What do the plans by the Bristol Zoological Society entail?


  • A housing development of 62 homes on its West Car Park site
  • Bristol Zoo Gardens opened to the public for free

The Society applied to Bristol City Council to create 62 homes on its West car park, which was granted in late September. The development will feature a mix of one, two and three-bed apartments and three to four bed mews houses.

The charity said that its housing plans will ensure the Clifton site’s buildings are protected and include a mix of ‘sustainable, high-quality, much-needed housing with the same level of space for people and nature as today’.

The West Car Park site is now officially listed for sale on Right Move, offering a ‘location where such opportunities for development are exceptionally rare’.

The housing develoment planned for the West Car Park site.

Director of transformation at the Society, Francesca Fryer, told BristolWorld: “The housing development plan is is very much a key part of our strategy that provides us with the potential to raise capital which will sustain out activities for the near-term, as well as providing seed funding for the continued development of the new zoo along with the development of Bristol Zoo Gardens.


“We want to see responsible, environmentally sustainable development on both sites that helps us to play a part in Bristol’s response to the housing and ecological crises we all face, while recognising our role as one of the founding members of the Clifton community.”

This week, the Society announced that as part of its plans, Bristol Zoo Gardens would also open to the public for free, making them ‘more accessible than ever before’.

New life will also be given to the gardens’ existing historical features, such as the Monkey Temple building.

The Zoo entrance building would become the Clifton Conservation Hub - a public café with indoor and outdoor seating, exhibition space, education and meeting spaces.

An artist’s impression of what Bristol Zoo Gardens could look like if they were made accessible to the public.


What do plans by Out World Bristol entail?

Architect and former city mayor George Ferguson, co-founder of Our World Bristol, said the collective’s proposal for the world’s first augmented reality zoo would bring ‘more benefits’ to the site and the city.

The £75million ‘OurWorld’ would see guests wearing headsets to see virtual wild animals around the site, along with dinosaurs.

The virtual zoo would replace the current Bristol Zoo Gardens and include a ‘wild island’ and 100ft tall viewing tower.


Visitors to the virtual zoo would wear headsets, allowing them to walk along realistic wild animals and dinosaurs.

Clare Wilks, director at LDA designs, created the proposals which have now been seen by councillors.

She said: “Bristol is a leader in natural history film-making. We’re aiming to create an atmosphere with a sense of escape, discovery and delight.”

Chris Jeffries, joint planning co-ordinator of the Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society, told BristolWorld: “To have a virtual zoo at the site would preserve the educational and conservation work which, historically, is what Bristol Zoo has always been concerned with.

“It is a much more interesting and imaginative proposal.”

What now?


Bristol Zoological Society received planning permission for housing on the West Car Park site in September, and the site is now listed for sale with that planning permission attached on RightMove.

The society says it will submit another planning application next year in relation to its plans for Bristol Zoo Gardens, which would be decided on by Bristol City Council.

No planning application has been lodged by Our World Bristol as of yet in relation to its proposal for a virtual reality zoo.

BristolWorld has approached the group to find out the status of its plans.

In the meantime, Bristol Zoological Society’s plans for the Gardens site is currently going through public consultation.

There will be an online question and answer event on Zoom next Tuesday (November 23) at 7pm. To attend virtually, email [email protected] with ‘online consultation’ in the subject line.


A third public consultation will be launch in early 2022.