EDINBURGH Zoo is planning to sell off a massive chunk of its land for housing to help fund a £58 million redevelopment of the attraction.
Zoo chiefs have earmarked 12 acres of land on its site in Corstorphine as surplus to requirements in the hope of ploughing the expected 15m proceeds from a sale into its plan for the site.
Up to 100 new homes will be built on a huge swathe of zoo property to the west of its 90-acre site under the plans.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which runs the attraction, has struck a deal in principle with EDI, the development firm set up by the city council.
Although the land, off Corstorphine Road, lies on green belt in the west of the city, council officials have given their backing to the proposed sell-off because they are seen as a crucial part of the zoo's blueprint for the future.
Zoo chiefs today warned that the attraction may have to quit its Corstorphine home if the sell-off plans fail.
David Windmill, chief executive of the zoo, said: "We've been in lengthy discussions with the city council in relation to our masterplan, as the sell-off of some land is vital to help fund the developments we are planning here.
"We will be doing some fundraising ourselves, although we'll also be applying for funding to the likes of the Scottish Executive, the National Lottery and the city council."
The zoo is planned to be completely redeveloped over the next 20 years, with only the Mansion House, a listed building at the heart of the site, and its famous penguin pool expected to remain as they are now.
The rest of the zoo will be organised into four enormous zones themed on different habitats - grasslands, woodlands, tropical rainforests and oceans/wetlands, with highlights expected to feature new chimp and polar bear enclosures.
All will be linked by a circular roadway and each area will feature a central "node" with a shop, cafeteria and children's play area, all themed to the particular zone.
The main entrance to the zoo is to be relocated to the top of the current car park, where a major new plaza is planned.
Eddie Price, chairman of the Friends of Corstorphine Hill group, said:
"We would prefer if this land was used for the benefit of animals and nature rather than being sold for homes. But as long as the money made from the sale of the land is ploughed back into the coffers of Edinburgh Zoo we don't really have a problem with it."
Kenneth Swinney, secretary of Corstorphine community council, added: "We are concerned about the adverse affects the development might have on the area."
The proposals are outlined in the council's latest plans spelling out where future development will be allowed in the city.
The council's plans are expected to have to go to a public inquiry because of pressure from developers for the council to release further chunks of the green belt.
It is thought it will take at least five years before any deal to develop on the zoo site is sealed.
A spokeswoman for EDI said: "Everything is really dependent on the council approving the release of the land and at the moment that is some way off."