THE man behind one of Cumbria’s biggest tourist attractions has launched a stinging attack on councillors for blocking his £4 million plan to almost treble its size.
David Gill, who runs the multi -award winning South Lakes Wild Animal Park, at Dalton-in-Furness, has accused Barrow Borough Council of ‘stifling’ entrepreneurial spirit in the Furness area.
He believes his project would – * create 45 new jobs * bring elephants and ‘big cats’ such as jaguars to the park for the first time * improve housing for existing animals * add a children’s farm * revamp visitor facilities, including a large car park and a new steam train to take visitors around the park Mr Gill is frustrated that the council has not ruled on his planning application after a year – although it is minded to reject it.
Now he has asked the Government’s planning inspectorate to intervene and make a decision.
The borough council’s planning committee believes the project would be an over-development of a greenfield site and cause traffic problems for residents of Melton Terrace, off the A590, where the new entrance would be located.
And it says that part of the reason it has taken so long to resolve the matter is because some of the application details were not clear enough.
Mr Gill, 50, who set up the park 17 years ago, said: “I have lived here all my life and these councillors are the most backward-looking people you could come across.
“How a positive project, which would create jobs and bring more people to the area in such desperate economic times as these, could be refused beggars belief.”
He added: “At the moment we have four different car parks and up to 4,000 people a day trying to cross a busy 60mph road to get to the park. With our new plans we could have them all on one piece of land.”
And he warned that the zoo, which is one of Cumbria’s top five visitor attractions, would stagnate if it did not grow.
“In this day and age, if you don’t go forwards you are going backwards.”
The zoo is already home to a variety of animals, including giraffes, rhinos, lions and lemurs and runs two animal conservation charities which aim to protect vulnerable species such as Sumatran tigers.
Mr Gill’s plan has been backed by Cumbria Tourism managing director Ian Stephens, who said: ''The park provides one of many good reasons for visiting the Furness peninsula and has brought important benefits into the area in terms of employment, and tourist expenditure.
“The expansion plans are to be encouraged and have a close fit with the tourism strategy for Cumbria. We're sure that most people will be in favour of bringing increased employment and income to the area and as such we hope that the planning issues can be overcome".
John Millar, chairman of Dalton with Newton Parish Council, which opposed the plans, said councillors were not against expansion or creating jobs but were worried about access.
“We are concerned about traffic flow and the impact this could have on the surrounding rural area,” he said Coun Ann Thomson, chairman of Barrow’s planning committee told the Gazette: “We are not in the business of stifling entrepreneurialism – we wouldn’t dream of doing that.”
She said members had particular concerns that the car park would ‘stand out like a sore thumb’ on the hillside and it was still unclear how it would be masked by landscaping.
Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock said: “Safety should never be compromised, but I hope these concerns can be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
“The wildlife park is one of this area’s big-pull attractions with lots of potential to expand and create more jobs in the years ahead.”
The final decision will be made by secretary of state for local government and communities Eric Pickles following advice from the planning inspectorate.
A ruling is likely to be made next spring.
SPACE pirate and alien life forms could soon be seen zooming around the Lake District – thanks to a new million dollar movie.
Old Hutton writer and director Rick McLeod has teamed up with a group of American producers to make a science fiction film based on cult television series Firefly.
The US consortium, one of whom has done sound-tracks for Mr McLeod in the past, originally began filming experimental sequences in county – but then the idea turned into a feature-length film.
Although $1 million is a relatively small budget for a movie, Mr McLeod said he was ‘shocked’ when the group gave the figure.
“Last year was a good one for us – we’re still reeling from that – so when they approached me my first question was ‘Are you serious?’
“It’s not easy to make films in Cumbria, especially with the UK Film Council gone. When we had Leslie Grantham here, he was unpaid because he loved the script.
“It’s great to know that our hard work is starting to pay off.”
The film, called Lost Transmission, follows the lonely adventure of Blake, captain of a mining ship, with no-one but his computer to talk to after war breaks out on Earth. But he leaves the planet to find life on other worlds.
Filming is expected to start in early 2012, and will be split between Cumbria and America.
CGI effects are already being worked on by the studio, which created a castle in the middle of Windermere in a previous flick.
Before filming begins in earnest, Mr McLeod is shooting a short promotional video with action sequences in Old Hutton.
And he is looking for ‘23rd century pirates’ to star as extras in a fight scene on Sunday, to be led by a trained fight choreographer.
“We’re seeking punks, goths and heavy rockers. Long or short hair, tattoos and piercings are a bonus but not essential. The more outrageous the look the better,” said Mr McLeod.
Filming will last for between two and three hours and anyone interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Participants are requested to send a head shot with their email.
Discussions with actors to play the role of Blake are still going on.