IN THE NEWS: Taronga Zoo's plan to build luxury eco-resort slammed by council and residents

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IN THE NEWS: On FEB 5, 2017

Taronga Zoo's proposal to build a four to five storey "eco resort" on its plum harbourside site has been slammed as a thinly disguised development bid pitched at wealthy visitors to Sydney.

In a submission to the NSW Department of Planning, Mosman Council says the planned $45 million resort appears incompatible with the primary aims of the zoo, which are animal display, research, breeding and raising public awareness of species conservation.

Mosman Council has previously supported the zoo's popular Roar and Snore program which allows paying visitors to camp overnight and experience the zoo's creatures after dark.

But it says the proposed resort-style accommodation on the site appears to have little to do with promoting engagement with wildlife.

More likely, it says, is that the proposed luxury suites would be "used by function centre patrons and visitors to, or residents of, Sydney wanting a high-end stay close to the city with views of the harbour".

A zoo spokesperson insisted the project would "encourage people to spend time at the zoo learning about our wildlife and the threats they face".

But the council questions whether the proposed 62-bed project is an appropriate use of public land, warning that the extensive development at the eastern side of the site "will remove that land from further expansion of zoo exhibits or other core functions".

Earlier council documents from May 2016 also flagged concerns about social equity, given the proposed resort's likely unaffordability for most Sydney-siders.

A report to council said the luxury suites appear "targeted towards a range of markets that are not part of its core function as zoo (e.g. weddings, corporate and business events)".

"The proposed development will compromise public access to a portion of the site, benefiting only those who can afford to stay in these rooms and suites," it adds.

Local residents who have lodged submissions also appear overwhelmingly against the proposal, with one complaining that "it's just the latest in the zoo's creeping Disneyfication".

The Public Service Association says zookeepers it represents have expressed concerns about the welfare of the zoo's animals, given the scale of construction and increased noise and activity from permanent accommodation at the site.

PSA Assistant Secretary Troy Wright described Taronga as "one of the most significant and world-renowned cultural institutions in the country and [the proposal] means directing funds away from the zoo's core business of animal welfare and conservation and channelling it into a multimillion dollar development catering to the rich."

But the zoo spokesperson said its animal care experts had been "integral to the design" and that Taronga had an "absolute commitment" to meeting animal welfare needs.

The spokesperson added that the project would be "self-funded" if approved, through money raised "independently", and that Taronga Foundation donations would not flow into it.

The Mosman site is classed as state significant putting the final decision in the hands of the Department of Planning and Environment. Assessment of the proposal is now in its final stages. The zoo was originally keen to start construction this year.

Taronga Zoo sits within the state electorate of North Sydney, shortly to be plunged into a byelection precipitated by the resignation of local member and retiring Health Minister Jillian Skinner. Ms Skinner was approached for comment but did not respond.

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