How the community could ‘buy back’ Bristol Zoo Gardens to stop housing plans

Plans to sell off Bristol Zoo Gardens for housing could be scuppered if the community lodges a bid to buy and take over the historic site.

The Bristol Zoological Society (BZS), which own and operates the 186-year-old zoo in Clifton, announced last year that the attraction would close before moving to its Wild Place Project at South Gloucestershire.

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In a bid to secure future income while preserving its legacy in Clifton, the Society wants to build a collection of houses and apartments at Bristol Zoo Gardens while also opening the site to the public for free for the first time since the 1930s.

An artist’s impression of what Bristol Zoo Gardens could look like if the Bristol Zoological Society’s plans to open it to the public go ahead.

The project would also see a playground, lake, cafe and conservation hub created there while some of the zoo’s iconic buildings such as the Clocktower would also be converted into housing.

The Society is drafting up a planning application detailing these major proposals following a third consultation, which is expected to be submitted to Bristol City Council within the next month.

But at a public meeting to discuss the plans at Clifton Pavilion on Thursday (March 24), director of transformation Francesca Fryer confirmed that as Bristol Zoo Gardens is listed as an Asset of Community Value, residents and groups would be given the chance to buy the site.

The Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society (CHIS) are against plans to sell off the site for housing and successfully applied for Bristol Zoo Gardens to become an community asset in September last year.

It means that, by law, the community will have a right to put in a bid for the site, if it is put up for sale by BZS at any point over the next five years.

It is understood that Our World Bristol are intending to lodge a community bid during the six month ‘moratorium’ period, after announcing a counter-proposal to create a virtual reality zoo at the site.

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

Christopher Jeffries, planning co-ordinator at CHIS, told BristolWorld: “We applied to have Bristol Zoo Gardens listed as an asset so that it couldn’t just be sold off without further consultation to a commerical developer.

“And as Ms Fryer said at the public meeting, the site does first of all have to be offered to the community.

“CHIS obviously doesn’t sit on the required sum of money to do this, but we would work with the Our World project who are still very much interested in acquiring the site and as far as we know are currently drafting up a business plan.

“Certainly, I would say there is much greater local support for the development that Our World are proposing.”

But Ms Fryer did not appear concerned that the Society’s plans, which ‘retain the magic’ of the Gardens, were at any risk.

She told BristolWorld that the Our World Project had but forward some ‘very interesting’ ideas and that the Society had been open to working with the group.

Francesca Fryer, director of transformation at Bristol Zoological Society.

She added: “People are always going to have concerns but I think they understand the relationship between the development and the ability to offer a sustainable future to Bristol Zoo Gardens and and the care that they need.”

It is thought that the six month moratorium period would begin soon after the Bristol Zoological Society submit their next planning application.

Once that period is over, BZS would be free to sell the asset to whoever they wish and and at any price, should any community bids that have been put forward prove unsuccessful.

The auction of The Giant Goram pub in Lawrence Weston was also put on hold in February after a proposal was tabled by the Save the Giant Goram campaign to save it.