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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Zoo boss hits out at council decision

David Gill, owner of the South Lakes Wild Animal Park, has reacted to a council committee's decision to reject his plans for an expansion.

Mr Gill, who is currently in Wyoming, learned of the news this morning and has released a lengthy statement in reaction to Barrow Borough Council's planning committee' decision to reject plans to extend the park by nine hectares.

He said:  "I received the news of the planning committee rejection of our expansion from Karen Brewer who is the Project Manager for the near £4m project this morning. I am living in the USA for most of the summer where I have had a home now for nearly 18 months.

"The decision to reject the plans by the elected council members against the professional advice of the very officers they pay high salaries to carefully assess and scrutinise planning applications using the applicable rules, regulations and law is not a shock nor surprise to me.

"It is however a gross disappointment once again to see the very people who the electorate vote for doing the exact opposite of the majority view. A clear failure of democratic values, because it is obvious that the support from the local population for this expansion is huge and overwhelmingly in favour of it.

"It seems that six or eight people on Melton Terrace have managed to hijack the opinions of councillors against the wishes of around 600 to 800 residents who would have benefitted directly and dramatically from the changes proposed and the whole community of Furness who have the benefit of a flagship national attraction in their midst.

"Since I had 100 per cent support from the then Conservative council to develop the zoo on a green field site back in 1993 I have had to suffer the personal views of councillors taking precedent over factual evidence and planning rules. The park and its 60 employees has had to fight for everything it has ever achieved through official channels to get to the huge success that it is bringing in with approximately £6m of consumer spend each year into the Furness economy directly.

"Seventeen years of negative, destructive actions by elected representatives towards the top tourist attraction in the Lake district and the business and charities that continue to grow despite the recession ( and the council) has not stopped us being one of the very few businesses looking to expand and employ more local people in this down turn.

"The full cost of the development is being provided by myself and with no public money whatsoever being received. 

"It seems the whole argument has centred around the “safety” of using the old A590 up Melton Brow which was 17 years ago the only trunk road through there.

"I will state that we have been researching and making plans for the expansion and new car parks for four full years. The amount invested by the park in these plans is over £100,000 before this meeting to ascertain the safest, most practical and the best overall option for an new entrance and new facilities.

"The Highways Agency have been directly involved in all aspects of consultation, planning and safety. Years of visitor data, speed traps, number counting, computer modelling and outside consulting have taken place before this meeting on Tuesday. It is accepted by all professionals involved that the existing car parking is highly dangerous and over the years the risks to the public rise with volumes.

"We do not have any where near enough car parking spaces to accommodate the number of visitors both in the Summer as now and in winter months also. It is a fact that on many days in the year over 2,000 adults and children are asked to cross a busy 60mph limit narrow road with a blind crest. They cross to and from making 4,000 crossings a day and 28,000 potentially a week in summer. The chances of a serious accident increase every day this is going on, our need is to remove ALL danger from visitors by providing car parking on site for every visitor and make it disabled and family friendly in every way, the other need is also to provide direct links with public transport via the buses and trains .

"The very action of the councillors has stopped any improvement in safety for the up to 800 residents that have these visitors by their front doors every day and to encourage as many people as possible onto new bus services and trains. I and all professional opinion see clearly our plans for the new junction would conform to the Highways Standards and be changed to support the volume of traffic proposed.

"Accidents happen when drivers are not paying attention to speed etc no road or junction is able to avoid that. there are numerous accidents and frustrations now with the existing set up through the very narrow parked streets of Dalton. I have been asked why we dont use the roundabout? Simply I dont have access to the land at that point , secondly from a Highways perspective the chances of accidents off the roundabout would be far higher and not acceptable to them.

"I had no idea when I built the park in 1993 that we would have more than 10,000 people a year but the reality is we have well over 300,000 now and it is still slowly growing. where do the councillors expect people to park? How do they think we can stop the road being blocked by cars parking on the road? we had this same personal illogical approach to our last main car park application, we won on appeal and the car park has been a huge success and is not visible from anywhere.

"I have no doubt whatsoever that with the weight of positive professional expertise that has supported the project within the rules, regulations and laws that the government Inspector will over rule the Councillors and allow this to go ahead for the sake of thousands of children who need this facility and because it fulfils every criteria set out by Government for development. sadly the tax payer will then be forced to pay our costs for the appeal and waste not just time but local peoples money.

"I am not doing this for myself, it is for my young children, my dedicated and highly motivated staff and for the millions of people who have loved and benefitted from the park in the past 17 years. the park either grows or will disappear because it cannot stay as it is. I am confident that the educated and reasoned inspectorate will see the merits of our case.

"Another aspect is the animals of course who were all going to benefit with new facilities , bigger enclosures and many new facilities, because of the very nature of zoos and animals we have been expecting planning anytime within the last year and many animals are now in the zoo expecting new enclosures, these further delays are not helping them either. Over 100 local people were proposed to be contracted to work on the site in the next 2 years of construction and another 15 were expected for full time positions afterwards. Their aspirations and ability to feed their families ruined by this extremely short sighted decision.

"Personally , I would not stay in this area at all if it were not for the zoo and my loyalty to the supportive local people, my staff and my family, I made the decision a while ago to reside in another country and invest in new business away from Furness simply because Barrow has little to offer in 2011.

"We are all at the park determined with the over whelming support of the community at large to make this expansion happen , to grow the business and charities , employ more people and provide education to our children and to do it despite the actions of the council people you all voted for because what we stand for and what we achieve is worth the outstanding effort my staff put in and the rewards we give back in so many ways not just in Furness but all over the world.

"I remain very positive and confident that this will go ahead but now another year later than scheduled."

Have your say

barrow council....get a life will ya, someone brings people to the area and you want to block it.... shame on you!!!! your OUR servants not the other way round....we say YES to the zoo expansion.

Posted by steve on 17 August 2011 at 12:37

Shame he's not covered by SLDC they seem to let allsorts of planning go through regardless of what the population wants!!

Let him have his extension, this area needs attractions like this!!

Posted by Karen on 9 August 2011 at 18:03

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