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Council Leader writes letter of support for Chester Zoo’s reopening plans

The leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council has sent a letter to the Secretary of State to share her concern about the decision to introduce legislation to keep Chester Zoo closed indefinitely.

The letter goes on to say that the Council supports the zoo’s re-opening plans and asks for the decision to keep it closed to be reconsidered.

Here's the letter from Councillor Louise Gittins:

There is dismay in Chester, and indeed nationally and internationally, about your decision to introduce specific legislation to keep Chester Zoo closed indefinitely.

I wanted to write to make clear our own risk assessment, given our responsibilities for public and environmental health, of the ability of the zoo to re-open soon. As a council we have taken a cautious approach to re-opening: more so than the government. In my view some of the national decisions to open up facilities have been premature, and without sufficient attention to the local public health risks. We have approached our discussions with Chester Zoo in the same spirit, with public health absolutely paramount.

Officers from our Environmental Health team visited the zoo last Friday and have carefully scrutinised Chester Zoo’s plans for re-opening. They have found the zoo’s management and staff to be transparent, cautious and assiduous in their approach to keeping the public safe. These plans include only re-opening outdoor spaces and reducing the maximum capacity of the zoo from 20,000 visitors per day to 3,000. The zoo has wide walkways and large open spaces which allow for social distancing, and a robust cleaning regime.

On this basis we are very pleased to support Chester Zoo’s re-opening plans.

It is disappointing that this robust local assessment is not reflected at all in the government’s approach. Instead a one-size-fits-all approach is taken to all zoos, irrespective of their scale or local context, and with no reference to the views of local public health experts. As a result of your decision, Chester Zoo is now placed in a precarious position, relying on support and goodwill from its supporters across the world, and at risk of redundancies and closure.

There appears no consistency in the government’s approach to re-opening facilities.

Chester Zoo is forbidden from opening, and yet the Cheshire Oaks outlet park is required to open – placing huge pressures on our local transport system. We see outdoor spaces being crowded with visitors, promoted by the breakdown of trust in the government’s “stay alert” messages, while Chester Zoo can control entry carefully and fully enable social distancing.

I urge you to reconsider this decision rapidly and pass responsibility for overseeing the safe operation of Chester Zoo to its local management, supported by a robust local public health approach.

I am copying this letter to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and local MPs for the Cheshire West area.

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