A circular lido, wild island and 100ft viewing tower: Vision for world’s first virtual zoo in Bristol

Site would be ‘an oasis for learning of global significance’ says former city mayor George Ferguson
An artist’s impression of Our World BristolAn artist’s impression of Our World Bristol
An artist’s impression of Our World Bristol

A circular lido, ‘wild island’ and 100-foot viewing tower would all form part of the “magic” of the world’s first virtual zoo if it is created at the current site of Bristol Zoo.

But there would be no parking at the visitor attraction, according to members of the Our World Bristol campaign who set out the case for their £75million project for the Clifton site – an alternative to the zoo’s plans for housing – at a public meeting last night.

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Bristol Zoological Society, which owns Bristol Zoo Gardens, announced last year that the Clifton site would be sold and the zoo would move into the Wild Place Project, near junction 17 of the M5 in South Gloucestershire.

It plans to sell the land with planning permission for housing to raise enough money to secure a “long-term sustainable future” for the society and its mission to save wildlife from extinction.

But architect and former city mayor George Ferguson told around 100 members of the public who attended the online meeting hosted by the Bristol Civic Society on Monday (October 25) that Our World Bristol proposal would bring more benefits to the city.

The site of Bristol Zoo nowThe site of Bristol Zoo now
The site of Bristol Zoo now

Mr Ferguson, a prominent member of the campaign, said the “world’s first augmented reality zoo” would be “entertaining but also hugely educational” for children right across the city and beyond.

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Bristol Zoo’s plans to sell the land with planning permission for a “posh housing estate”, on the other hand, would make Clifton even less diverse and leave it “a rich person’s residential suburb”, he said.

The zoo will present its case at another online meeting hosted by the Bristol Civic Society on November 10.

New lido, viewing tower and ‘wild island’

Mr Ferguson and Clare Wilks, director at Bristol-based design and planning consultancy LDA Design, fleshed out Our World proposal, which has had input from the team behind the Eden Project.

The plans would preserve the listed buildings at the 186-year-old zoo, demolish the “crud”, and enhance the landscape while keeping the lake, loop road and dozens of protected trees intact, they said.

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A new circular lido and 100-foot viewing tower would sit alongside familiar landmarks such as the zoo entrance, the giraffe house, the lion house and the World of Water building.

A “wild island” that would be a “human no-go zone” would be part of the new landscape enriched with planting for bees and insects.

More entrances would be created so that members of the public would be able to enjoy the gardens for free, and a raised “gallery promenade” for visitors would go around the edge of the site.

People would be charged for such things as the visors necessary to enjoy the augmented reality experience on offer, but prices would be kept at a level that “doesn’t exclude anyone”, Mr Ferguson said.

Holograms and giant mechanical beasts

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Ms Wilks said: “A network of meandering paths would give a good feeling of discovery and play.

“There would also be amphitheatres, grottos, lawns to create stages and exhibitions, and really create a great magical experience.

“At night, you could discover the magic of Our World Bristol. Maybe some holograms of giraffes, or you could walk across the lake, you could explore the orbital loop by moonlight, before dining amongst the gardens, or you could plunge in the lido.”

She said the gardens would be a “playground for the imagination” and the “technology of tomorrow” proposed would keep the site relevant for the next 100 years.

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Mr Ferguson said visitors would also encounter large beasts built by Arcadia, the company behind the giant spider that has become a regular feature of Glastonbury music festivals.

‘Creating magic’ through augmented reality

Mr Ferguson said: “Regenerating the site is the most important thing to do…and creating magic.

“Augmented reality gives you the experience in the place.

“You can travel backwards in time, you can travel forwards in time, you can travel in scale.

“You can become the same size as a mammoth or the same size as other big beasts or insects that are on the site.

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“The idea of being with the animals in the place that you’re familiar with is such a strong one: with the lions but not threatened by them; with the lions that are not captured, not behind bars.

“You could become a bee in a beehive.”

He said Our World Bristol would be “an oasis for learning of global significance” and it was appropriate that Bristol Zoo, which was the world’s first provincial zoo, should become “the first augmented reality zoo in the world”.

Shuttle services instead of parking

Mr Ferguson said there would be no public parking, apart from some disabled parking spaces and a small number of “operational” car parking spaces.

Instead, a shuttle service will connect the visitor attraction to Bristol Temple Meads and Park & Rides.

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Ms Wilks said: “The transport system will be an absolutely key part of these proposals, and the shuttle buses will be like the arms and legs of the body, which is the zoo, and will connect to station, park and rides.

“There can be no suggestion that cars will be coming to the walls of Our World.”

The attraction will also run outreach sessions for children in schools, she said.

Project cost depends on whether zoo gets planning permission

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Asked about the cost of the project, Mr Ferguson said it would depend on whether the zoo gets planning permission to build housing on the main site.

The zoo has already won approval to build 62 homes on the West Car Park in College Road.

Mr Ferguson said the value of the main zoo site would shoot up from about £15million to an estimated £45million if it comes with planning permission for housing.

Our World Bristol has factored in about £25million to buy the site, but could get “close” to the £45million mark with contributions from other interested parties, he said.

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Overall, the attraction would cost about £75million over the five to seven years it would take to complete, and would expect around 0.5million visitors a year.

Mr Ferguson said: “What is really important is that we just don’t go for highest price [for visitors], certainly in terms of the schools, and that one does have a pricing structure that doesn’t exclude anyone.”

A planning committee will decide what is best for the site

Mr Ferguson said a planning committee would decide what was best for the main zoo site.

While the land could provide some so-called “affordable” housing, it would not be affordable to many people, he said. ‘Affordable’ is a technical term indicating about 80 per cent of market price.

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“Affordable will be expensive,” Mr Ferguson said. “The zoo’s desire [is] to make as much money from the site as possible.”

Bristol Zoo Gardens plan to close late next year. Visitor numbers have declined in recent years and the organisation has made an operating loss in four of the last six years.

In February, Bristol Zoological Society was intending to submit a planning application for the main site either late this year or early 2022.

Wild Place Project will remain open and become the new Bristol Zoo in 2024.

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The Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society (CHIS) has successfully applied for Bristol Zoo Gardens to become an asset of community value. This means the community group will have the right to bid for the site if it goes up for sale in the next five years.

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