Zoo protesters enlist experts' help to fight land sell-off plan

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AN expert group has been set up to fight Edinburgh Zoo's controversial plans to sell off land for homes.

The zoo's 72 million expansion plans were thrown into doubt last year after councillors voted to oppose the development of houses off Kaimes Road.

The plans are a key part of the zoo's masterplan and are the focus of a local public inquiry later this year. The Friends of Corstorphine Trust – one of the main objectors, has now enlisted the help of planning experts from community councils to prepare a case ahead of the inquiry, and any possible appeal against the final decision.

The trust warned that if the zoo's plans went ahead it would bring traffic chaos to the area.

Eddie Price, chairman of the Corstorphine group, said it wanted to be prepared.

"It is impossible to know whether the zoo will appeal the council's decision, although I would imagine with so much at stake that it will," he said.

"We have been working with local community councils in the area to get together a working group of people who know about planning and traffic issues, so that we can look at all the arguments and be prepared.

"These plans are of huge concern to local people. If they went ahead it is likely local roads would grind to a halt."

The city council's planning committee overturned the authority's previous support for housing on part of the Corstorphine Hill site last October.

The zoo had hoped to sell off the land to raise up to 20m to help fund its 20-year masterplan to create a world-class visitor attraction. More than 200 people opposed the plans, including the Friends of Corstorphine Trust.

A final decision on the housing plans will be made at a local public inquiry, due to be held towards the end of this year. The trust's expert group has looked at the issues surrounding the development, and has drawn up a map to highlight just how serious traffic problems in the area could become.

As well as plans to develop housing on the west side of the zoo, there are proposals to install a roundabout and traffic lights on Corstorphine Road. These would be needed to deal with the extra traffic created by new houses – including a nearby development of 130 flats – as well as increased visitors to the zoo and an expansion of the nearby Forestry Commission car park.

The zoo's masterplan is aimed at turning the attraction into a modern wildlife and research facility attracting almost a million visitors a year. Under the plans, ageing cages would be replaced. The first stage of the 20-year plan would see a 10 million wildlife trail made to form an all-weather exhibit. It will feature the almost-complete Budongo chimpanzee enclosure, the new Rainbow Landings bird exhibit and a forthcoming rhino enclosure.

David Windmill, chief executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said: "We will be involved in the local inquiry later this year."

A zoo spokeswoman said it could not comment about a possible appeal until the outcome of the inquiry.