HL Deb 11 May 1988 vol 496 cc1206-8WA
Lord Brougham and Vaux

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will announce details of further financial support to the Zoological Society of London, and if they will make a statement.

The Earl of Caithness

The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has been receiving an annual grant and capital support from the Department of the Environment for a number of years, in recognition of its special status as a centre of zoological excellence. This support has secured the viability of the society. It has enabled it in particular to sustain its famous collections of animals at Regent's Park and Whipsnade, and to meet the costs of the Institute of Zoology which enjoys considerable international renown.

Last year the society and the department jointly engaged a team of leading consultants, headed by Peat Marwick McLintock, to report on the scope for improving the zoos' financial performance and implications for future government support. We have decided, in the light of the consultants' findings, that a radical change in approach is needed. This recognises that ZSL has distinctive and separate roles in the field of scientific research and species conservation, on the one hand, and in the promotion of public understanding and enjoyment of animals, presented in attractive surroundings, on the other.

London Zoo and Whipsnade have enjoyed enormous popularity with generations of London families and visitors from further afield. But the zoos need to renew their existing infrastructure and invest in new attractions to retain and build on this well-deserved popularity. The consultants have indicated that, given the right kinds of management skills, the zoos have the opportunity to remain world leaders and to become financially self-sufficient.

The Government accept that ZSL's scientific work through the Institute of Zoology should receive continuing support. But as far as the zoos themselves are concerned, the Government believe that continued annual subsidy from public funds is not longer appropriate. Nevertheless, some limited further assistance is needed to set the Society on its new path.

The Government and ZSL have accordingly reached agreement on the following terms:

  1. (a) After the end of the present financial year, annual funding for ZSL's Institute of Zoology will be provided through the Universities Funding Council (which is intended to replace the University Grants Committee from 1st April 1989) and the University of London. From then on ultimate responsibiliity will rest with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.
  2. (b) ZSL will establish a new operating subsidiary company to run the two zoos. The company will have a new managing director and specialist management team provided by the Grant Leisure Group Limited, initially for a period of three years.
  3. (c) The society has undertaken that the management of the new company will produce a master development plan. The Department of the Environment will then provide ZSL with a once-and-for-all capital endowment of up to £10 million, payable by November 1988. We have agreed with my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to fund these resources either from 1208 savings within the department's own programme, or if necessary by a call on the reserve.
  4. (d) Subject to agreement on detailed terms, we propose to grant to the society a new 60-year lease in respect of the Regent's Park site, under the terms of the Crown Estate Act 1961. This will include an extra 10 acres of land from the park which the society have the option of taking under the Act, and arrangements will be made for the society to take over the management of the Gloucester Slips coach and car park. There will be no payment under the lease initially, but we shall be reviewing the terms of it once the society's financial position is assured.

The Government believe it is right to recognise, through the proposed endowment, the particular significance of London Zoo's long associaton with Regent's Park and its impact on the amenities of the Royal Park as a whole. We are glad to say that Westminster City Council welcomes the concept of looking at a long-term strategy for Regent's Park Zoo. South Bedfordshire District Council, too, are very supportive of the concept of a revitalised Whipsnade.

We are very grateful to the president and hon. treasurer of the society and their colleagues for the willing co-operation which has made all this possible. The society has shown its confidence in the management skills of Mr. Grant and his team, who bring with them an impressive record of success in zoos and other visitor attractions.

We are confident that these new arrangements will give the greatest possible scope to ZSL to make a success of its operations and to raise private capital for new investment. They will enable the Government to withdraw from what we consider to be an inappropriate regime of subsidy. The Government have done their bit. It is now up to the public to show their support for ZSL and to demonstrate that they want to see zoos of this eminence continuing into the 21st century.