PLANS to breathe life into the original stables block which housed some of Chester Zoo's very first animals have been approved by Cheshire West and Chester Council.

The Grade II-listed stables, which were once home to some of the first animals to live at the zoo when it was opened by founder George Mottershead in 1931, is to be sensitively converted into a wedding and events space.

The Stables Yard at Chester Zoo - an artists impression of the redesigned space.

The Stables Yard at Chester Zoo - an artist's impression of the redesigned space.

Conservationists say the unique venue will provide an important boost to the zoo’s charitable income and help it to further its mission to prevent extinction, both in the UK and around the world.

The re-development of the area, located in the centre of the zoo’s 128-acre grounds, was approved by councillors at a planning meeting on Tuesday, April 5.

Architects working on the design of the project plan to retain many of the building’s original features and charm – including historical brickwork featuring scratch marks made by lions sharpening their claws – while an extension will be added to provide interconnecting event and reception rooms.#

The Stables Yard at Chester Zoo - an artists impression of the redesigned space.

The Stables Yard at Chester Zoo - an artist's impression of the redesigned space.

Dom Strange, commercial director at Chester Zoo, said: “As a major wildlife charity that’s working to prevent extinction, having a new, premier wedding and events space will enable us to raise additional income that will help us to fund yet more vital conservation initiatives in the UK and across the world, making a real difference to the future of threatened species globally.

“The Stables is a beautiful Grade II-listed building – it’s the very place where the story of Chester Zoo began nearly 91 years ago. Right now though, the buildings are hidden away and are not accessible to the public.

"They were previously used for storage, maintenance offices and workshops and so we’re so pleased that we’ll be able to sensitively, and sustainably, restore the area and give what is such a historically important building the love, attention and spotlight it deserves.

“When it opens next year, it’ll be a truly unique venue for all sorts of occasions and will help people to connect with and experience our conservation zoo in new ways. From wedding days to away days and a place to meet and share, we hope it will really become a central hub, an inspiring space and somewhere for people to breathe in the zoo’s history and character, while also enjoying some modern luxury.

“Importantly for us, the building will incorporate sustainable features and utilise lots of existing materials, and much of the food served will be ethically and locally sourced.”

At Cheshire West and Chester Council's planning meeting, Cllr Jill Houlbrook had called in the application following local residents' concerns about potential extra noise and traffic arising as a result of the development.

Cllr Houlbrook said: "Over the years, neighbours have raised concerns about noise coming from Oldfield House, particularly since its refurbishment."

The Upton councillor added, while the application had "many merits", points about noise and traffic needed to be addressed.

In response, planning officer Steven Holmes said such issues would be tackled through a management plan, which would include the venue's opening hours and visitor capacity.

The planning application was approved with 10 councillors in favour and one abstention.

The redevelopment of the stables marks the next stage in the zoo’s plans to revamp the original zoo site, having previously transformed Oakfield House, the former home of the Mottershead family who founded the zoo in 1931, into an award-winning pub.

The zoo hopes the new venue will be ready to open in mid-2023.