EDINBURGH Zoo's multi-million-pound redevelopment plans may have been scuppered by a councillor's holiday, it emerged today.
City planning leader Jim Lowrie has admitted he would have backed proposals by the visitor attraction to sell off land at its Corstorphine site to help fund its long-awaited overhaul.
But he was in Majorca when the full planning committee met to discuss the city's local plan, which included earmarking greenbelt land to the west of the zoo for 100 new homes.
In his absence, the committee voted by seven to six to reject the move, throwing the zoo's 72 million masterplan into chaos.
The decision flew in the face of recommendations from city planning officials and has been attacked as a "kick in the guts" for the attraction.
Had the Lib Dem planning leader been in attendance, the plans would have been passed.
Zoo chiefs are now understood to be drawing up plans to submit a planning application for the housing development in the hope of winning an appeal.
Councillor Lowrie said today he would expect an appeal to be successful. "I was very surprised at the decision that was taken by the planning committee," he added.
"I know local residents were concerned about the loss of the greenbelt, but we had already discussed the local plan at the committee before it went out for consultation.
"The problem with the decision is the zoo will probably win an appeal on planning terms. I couldn't do anything about missing the meeting as I had a holiday booked months beforehand. It was just one of those things."
Cllr Lowrie has told fellow councillors he would have backed the proposals because of the benefits for the attraction and the importance of the sell-off of land to its funding package.
One senior councillor said: "It was a huge blunder by Jim Lowrie to go on holiday and he now realises that. He's admitted to a few people that he would've supported the zoo's plans and obviously it would've made all the difference.
"The council's planners couldn't believe that the decision went the way it did in his absence, bearing in mind the work the zoo had put into its plans.
"It will put in its own planning application and appeal it on the grounds of non-determination if the committee turns it down. If the council loses an appeal it could be left with a huge bill of more than 100,000 for legal expenses."
Key elements of any appeal are likely to include the backing the attraction's proposals had secured from the council's planning experts, Cllr Lowrie's absence on the day of the crucial meeting and the lack of experience of his stand-in, the SNP's Stuart McIvor.
Lesley Hinds, a Labour councillor who opposed the crucial decision, said: "I do think it is very important that you are able to turn up if you are the convener.
"I actually felt sorry for Stuart McIvor because he had to chair a meeting when there was far too much on the agenda."
Gary Wilson, head of property and estates for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which runs the zoo, said: "We will discuss our options and decide on the best way forward."