In a Zoom meeting with Cheshire Conservative MPs on Sunday morning, Zac Goldsmith promised the Government would do ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure Chester Zoo stays open. Tony McDonough reports
Government minister Zac Goldsmith has pledged to do “whatever it takes” to make sure Chester Zoo survives the coronavirus crisis.
In a Zoom meeting with Cheshire Conservative MPs on Sunday morning. The Minister for the Pacific, International Environment, Climate and Forests, and Animal Welfare, also agreed to look at ways the zoo can open “as soon as possible”.
Bosses at Chester Zoo, which is one of the UK’s leading tourists attractions with 2m visitors a year, said last week that the shutdown of the zoo as part of the COVID-19 lockdown had so far cost it £5m in lost revenues.
Jamie Christon, the zoo’s chief operating officer, says zoo’s monthly running costs are £1.6m a month and, with no income coming in, it was facing a bleak outlook. He said if the shutdown ran until the end of the year the zoo would face a £24m black hole and possible closure.
He launched a Save Our Zoo campaign which, in less than 48 hours, raised well in excess of £1m. It is estimated the zoo, and its 37,000 animals, generates more than £80m for the regional economy every year and, during the normal summer peak period, employs up to 1,000 people. It is also involved in 80 conservation projects around the world.
Local MPs and councillors quickly got behind the campaign with Simon Eardley, Conservative councillor for the Saughall and Mollington ward, which covers the zoo, sending a letter to Mr Goldsmith asking him to intervene.
On Sunday morning the minister held an online meeting with Cheshire Tory MPs Andy Carter, Kieran Mullan, Edward Timpson and Esther McVey during which he made the pledge to help the zoo to stay open.
Mr Carter said afterwards: “This is the positive news we have been looking for. We’ve been able to make the case that Chester Zoo’s future must be secured and we’ve now had an absolute commitment from Government they will do whatever it takes to support the zoo through the pandemic.
“On Friday, we were able to engage fully with the zoo’s management team to understand what was needed. The minister has also agreed to look at how the zoo can reopen as soon as possible in a safe and welcoming way for families, staff, and, of course, the animals.”
However, despite the positive news, Chester Labour MP Chris Matheson took to Twitter to express his anger that no Labour MPs were asked to take part in the Zoom meeting. He posted: “It’s as though they’re more concerned with saving Tories’ necks than saving Chester Zoo.”
Mr Goldsmith hit back, saying: “I didn’t arrange the meeting. The MPs asked for one to discuss the zoo and I was more than happy to.”