‘It’s not too late’ - packed public meeting held as support to save Bristol Zoo grows

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The council planning committee will review the case on March 15 but the campaigners hope to cause a delay

Former Bristol mayor George Ferguson has warned the Bristol city council planning team that they will be on the ‘wrong side of history’ if they grant permission for 196 homes on the site of Bristol Zoo.

Mr Ferguson was speaking at a packed public meeting as part of the Save Bristol Zoo campaign which is hoping the zoo will be forced to reconsider the controversial plans to sell the site.

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The planning committee will review the case on March 15 but the campaigners say it’s not too late to cause a delay in the zoo’s plans.

Mr Ferguson added: “The individual planning committee members should not be instructed by their parties and they certainly shouldn’t be instructed by the mayor.

“By law, they have to take their own decision at the planning committee and it’s on their conscience. We have to make quite sure that they realise they will be on the wrong side of history if they vote to turn the zoo gardens into a housing estate.”

The former mayor and architect also said the zoo was going against its own principles as a conservation charity when it came to climate change.

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“They are a conservation charity and they rightly talk about conservation of wildlife across the world, but what is the point of that if what they’re doing is contributing to the climate change by destroying that habitat those animals live in?

“What they’re doing is absolutely the worst possible thing we can do regarding the climate. They’re not a conservation charity in my eyes.”

Members of the public queue for the Bristol Zoo on its final day of opening. Members of the public queue for the Bristol Zoo on its final day of opening.
Members of the public queue for the Bristol Zoo on its final day of opening. | Tom Wren / SWNS

Bristol Zoo closed in September after 186 years and receiving 90 million visitors. Owners the Bristol Zoological Society claim their decision was due to rising costs and falling numbers and they decided to move the operation to Wild Place near Cribbs Causeway.

But campaigner Tom Jones, a Bristol-based musician, has written a detailed 80-page report about the case against closing the zoo, claiming the public has been ‘misled’ because the zoo made the decision based on one strategy report rather than exploring other options.

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Mr Jones, who describes the zoo as ‘hallowed ground’, said: “They didn’t even try to keep it open. The KPMG report gave them several options but they chose that one straight away.

“It’s a huge short cut to get the money quickly. I think the key is the zoo’s CEO doesn’t believe in the zoo, that’s the root of it. I think even if you gave him £50m, he’d take it for Wild Place and still close Bristol zoo.”

An artist’s impression of the public lake at the centre of the garden site.An artist’s impression of the public lake at the centre of the garden site.
An artist’s impression of the public lake at the centre of the garden site. | Bristol Zoological Society

Mr Jones said he was in touch with several zoo staff members, who he claims have had to sign non-disclosure agreements so they don’t speak publicly about the closure.

He said: “People are resigning by the week, they are jumping like rats from a sinking ship. They tell me the zoo is really worried by what we’re doing.

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“But were the people of Bristol ever asked and was it ever communicated to the public that there was an existential threat to the zoo and could we help.

“There’s a lot of money out there. There are some very wealthy people in Bristol, were they ever asked?”

One of the Save The Zoo campaigners, travel writer Alastair Sawday, who lives in Clifton, said “We’re here to save Bristol Zoo gardens and save us from having a luxury housing estate dumped on us.

“Yet again, another community asset is under threat, it’s happening all around us. Pubs, public lavatories, libraries, sports fields - one by one they are falling like skittles and when are we going to stop it, what system is there to enable us to stop it?

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“Twelve acres in the middle of Bristol is not to be sniffed at and I think we have a profound sense of loyalty to the vision of the founders of the zoo. We want to feel that in 50 years, 100 years and 200 years people will look back and be delighted that we didn’t let it go.

“If it’s gone, it’s gone. If we save it, we can rethink. The decision to close the zoo was taken by a tiny handful of people and they are exercising enormous power over our future.

“Even to contemplate removing 12 acres of much loved and precious space is not only shortsighted, but a form of wilful neglect. Why on earth did the zoo close in the first place?”

Mr Sawday said there will be a public protest on March 12 at 11am. The campaigners will meet at the Victoria Rooms and march to the zoo. For more information on the Save Bristol Zoo campaign, click here.

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