Chester MP Chris Matheson and Ellesmere Port & Neston MP Justin Madders have demanded urgent Government support for Chester Zoo, which has had to once again close its doors to visitors following the second national lockdown.
Last week, Chester Zoo was forced to close to the public during the month-long England-wide lockdown. Management at the zoo have previously expressed concerns over the lack of Government support available for larger zoos and the financial strain they will face if they would have to close their doors again.
Following a large campaign by the zoo and several MPs including Chris and Justin earlier this year, the Government allowed zoos to reopen in the summer following the first national lockdown and announced a support fund of £100 million for UK zoos and aquariums. Since this announcement, Chester Zoo has been able to welcome back visitors although at reduced capacity, however, they have not been able to directly benefit from the Government support fund.
In their letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Chris and Justin highlight the difficulties in accessing the current fund designated for UK zoos and aquariums and call the Government to ‘revisit the criteria’ of this fund and distribute it as a ‘matter of urgency’.
In the letter the MPs also address inconsistencies in Government guidelines that allow some outdoor spaces such as National Trust parks to remain open while others such as the zoo have to keep their doors shut.
Chris said that: “The current situation is having devastating implications on Chester Zoo’s financial position. Its income is devoted exclusively to its operations, and to its vital conservation projects across the world. The devastating loss of income has already threatened its work, jobs here in Chester, and its future viability.
We understand and support measures that are put in place to help fight the spread of the virus, however, there once again seem to be some inconsistencies in the government’s measures. The team at Chester Zoo have worked extremely hard to ensure everyone’s safety at the zoo and to make it Covid secure. Yet the outside spaces have not been allowed to remain open since the new measures have come into force”
Justin added by saying: “We welcomed the increased £100 million support fund for UK zoos and aquariums, however, it was truly alarming to learn that just £2.19 million of the £100 million fund has been awarded so far.
This figure suggests that there are profound problems with how the fund has been designed and is being distributed. We understand that Chester Zoo and other representatives of the UK zoo sector are consistently highlighting flaws in the current arrangements, including its limited ambition and application criteria.”
Justin also raised the matter in the Commons on Thursday, calling on Commons Leader Jacob Rees Mogg to ensure the Secretary of State provides a statement explaining what he is going to do to make sure the scheme benefits zoos and aquariums as it was intended to do.