Holyrood ‘could stop new attempts to breed Edinburgh’s giant pandas’

Picture: Neil Hanna
Picture: Neil Hanna
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A NEW attempt to get Edinburgh’s giant pandas to breed could be scuppered because of the Scottish Government’s intervention in a row over construction noise harming the animals, officials have warned.

The government notified the city council in March that ministers may call in the planning application to convert the former Corstorphine Hospital into new homes, amid fears that work on the site – just yards from the pandas enclosure – could affect the health of Yang Guang and Tian Tian.

But now a briefing to councillors from city officials has explained the government’s move in issuing a “direction” means a plan to resolve the issue by building a new enclosure elsewhere in the zoo – partly financed by the developers – must go through a formal planning agreement, prolonging the process and possibly delaying the pandas’ new home until after the 2019 mating season.

Yang Guang and Tian Tian have been on loan to Edinburgh Zoo since 2011 but hopes of panda cubs have so far come to nothing.

The zoo announced a few weeks ago there will be no attempt to get the pandas to breed this year.

The government intervention followed came after the zoo objected to the plans for 76 apartments, including 44 new-build, at the hospital site because of the effect on the pandas.

Zoo chairman Jeremy Peat later warned the construction noise and vibration could even “lead to one or both dying”.

The briefing by council officials said: “Before the direction, this could have been resolved between the zoo and the developer and the zoo could have withdrawn its objection allowing the development to proceed. Now it is a national issue and a material consideration, this can only be done under Section 75 which will prolong the issuing of the consent and the financial contribution being made to the zoo.

“The Section 75 agreement will need to be reached before the application can be determined by planning committee and there is currently no target date for this.

“In addition, the zoo will have to apply for planning consent and a building warrant for the new enclosure. This work will not begin until the Section 75 monies are received and the consent is issued.

“Based on the current information, in our opinion, the direction by the government serves to extend the timescales and make it less likely that the pandas could be rehoused in time for the 2019 breeding attempt.”

Corstorphine/Murrayfield Tory councillor Scott Douglas said: “Once again we have the SNP government acting first and asking questions later. They have piled into a discussion and ended up making it harder for a deal to be done, which is the exact opposite of what needed to be achieved.

“Maybe if they didn’t show such disdain for local government we could avoid these things happening in future.

“Whatever the outcome we need to ensure the welfare of the pandas is prioritised and we don’t interrupt their breeding season for 2019.”