Gina Davidson: Roars of dismay as zoo loses way

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THIS time last year things seemed to be looking up for Edinburgh Zoo. Its internal staffing problems appeared resolved, the new interim chief executive Hugh Robertson was apparently in control and the pandas had arrived and settled in with no problems.

But here we are again with the zoo hitting the front page for plans which seem ill-conceived, off-the-cuff and almost as if they were designed to re-enrage the members of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

It’s not often they get riled, but in 2011 they did – and the chairman of the zoo board felt their wrath, and 
ultimately resigned.

So the news that the zoo is considering shedding animals will have their ire burning again. Not just 
because the idea to become more of an amusement park than a place of species conservation goes against all the RZSS stands for, but because it’s been blurted out without thought for the full consequences.

It’s understandable that there are conversations taking place aboutthe zoo’s future. It is, after all, pretty bleak. There is, I’m told, £15 million worth of infrastructure revamps, repairs and replacements to sort out in what is a 100-year-old site. Robertson seemed to be tackling these issues, but it now appears he was able to do little more than a cosmetic paint job.

Yet there seems to be no real plan to raise that kind of money, not since the idea of selling off some of the zoo’s land on Corstorphine Hill fell by the wayside.

The pandas have not proved the 
financial lifeline that was hoped.

That is likely down to the fact that their enclosure – built smaller than originally planned because of said cash problems – can only get 450,000 through it annually, when the zoo really needs to have double those visitor numbers to make it pay.

Bamboo costs are also said to have doubled to £600,000 a year. The pressure on the keepers to get those pandas to breed is huge.

And there’s the small matter of a £3m loan the zoo also needs to pay off.

The fact that the penguins are getting a new enclosure is a financial miracle, but the numbers suggest the sea lion pond area won’t be re-
opening any time soon. And nor will much else.

If the zoo is planning to reduce animal numbers but keep – or even bring in – more “crowd pleasers” then that could be a policy which would attract more through the doors and keep revenues up. If it’s just a case of reduce with no replacements, then which family is going to fork out the £50-plus for their tickets?

The new chief executive, Chris West, was lauded by the zoo’s board for increasing membership numbers and revenue at Adelaide Zoo. It’s time Edinburgh saw this in action.

Not on the house

SURPRISING news from the City Chambers earlier this week – there’s to be a new policy to ensure council house tenants will have to pay for property repairs where the damage was inflicted deliberately.

Some might have thought such a thing already existed – especially when the total housing repair bill 
totals around £19m a year.

But while tenants have always had to agree to behave in a certain way and to look after their properties when they get the keys to a council house, for reasons perhaps known only to those who work in the housing department, repairs for deliberate damage have hardly ever been charged to the perpetrator.

Quite why anyone (excluding those with particular mental health issues) would want to smash up their bathroom suite or punch a hole in their front door is beyond me, but it obviously happens.

So it’s good news that this policy will ensure there’s no chance that tenants can pretend not to know they will have to fork out personally if they smash in a window or break a lift. And it seems 88 per cent of council tenants surveyed agree with it – though they will undoubtedly be people who already look after their properties and treat their homes with respect.

The problem with such policies, though, is implementation – if someone doesn’t have the wit to look after their home, why on earth will they have the understanding they have to pay for their damage? And how do you get them to pay? There’s talk about the usual debt recovery procedures . . . but ultimately the biggest sanction will be to lose the right to a council house. And then what?

Here’s hoping it won’t come to that and that holding antisocial tenants to account quickly and economically will be enough. But I won’t hold my breath.