ZOO bosses say time is on their side as they seek to find £40m of funding pulled by the doomed Northwest Development Agency (NWDA).
The zoo had approval in principle for a £40m grant from the NWDA and European Regional Development Fund towards its dream of creating an ‘Eden Project of the North’ with the £225 Natural Vision ‘Biodome’ project.
But this week the NWDA confirmed the zoo project was one of more than 100 projects in the North West hit as it cuts £52m from its budget ahead of its abolition in April 2012.
The zoo has vowed to forge ahead with its plans for the Natural Vision project, which have already been submitted to Cheshire West and Chester Council for planning approval. It is anticipated that the application will be presented to the strategic planning committee in the next two months.
Prof Gordon McGregor Reid, director general of Chester Zoo, said the news from the NWDA was ‘disappointing but not unexpected’, given that the coalition Government announced plans in their emergency budget to axe the regional development agencies.
Simon Mann, development director for Chester Zoo, said the zoo would be engaging with the new Local Enterprise Partnerships, of which Cheshire West and Chester will be a key partner, once they were established to replace the NWDA.
He added: “From the very outset of this project, the zoo has explored various different income streams for Natural Vision and this work will continue – the project is two to three years away from construction so it is still exciting and viable.
“The Natural Vision project would bring great economic benefits to the region and bring a welcome boost for the tourism industry – tourism is a key strand of the Coalition’s manifesto.”
Prof Reid said the NWDA had always been very supportive of the Natural Vision development and he wished to thank them.
He added: “Our focus now remains on seeking planning permission for the development. We will also be working with the Cheshire West and Chester authority on making this project investment ready. It is very much business as usual.”
The NWDA will not be able to make any new investments or renew partner contracts before its dissolution in April 2012 but the new Regional Growth Fund announced by Government will offer opportunities for the private and public sector for potential new projects from April 2011 onwards.