UK’s largest zoo extension opens – Eight years of work by Barton Willmore comes to fruition


The UK’s largest zoo extension has opened to the public at Chester Zoo. This marks a significant day for Barton Willmore, the UK’s largest independent, integrated planning and design consultancy, which were instrumental to the ‘Islands’ scheme by advising on the planning permission, adding the first Zoo project if its kind to their repertoire.

Phase one of Chester Zoo’s £40 million ‘Islands’ scheme launched on July 13th and is expected to welcome 150,000 visitors in its first year.

Islands features five different habitats linked with a series of bridges and a ‘Lazy River’ boat trip for visitors to explore. Islands hosts habitats and animals from Panay, Papua, Bali, Sumatra, Sumba and Sulawesi, with the project being one of the most ambitious zoo developments in Europe, spanning over 50,000 square metres.

Designed by Berlin-based architects Dan Pearlman and expertly project managed by Turner & Townsend, Phase two of Islands will house ‘Monsoon Forest’, the largest indoor zoo exhibit in the UK, which will be home to Sumatran orangutans, Sulawesi macaques and Sunda Gharial, a type of crocodile.

Collectively, the design and planning team has delivered Islands as part of the Zoo’s wider vision to retain its position as the UK’s number one zoo[1]’.

After running a stakeholder and community engagement programme, Barton Willmore’s team first submitted a planning application to Cheshire West and Chester Council in 2009. Outline planning permission was granted in 2010 and the Islands scheme received full planning permission in 2012.

Dan Mitchell, Partner at Barton Willmore’s Manchester-based team, which led the application, said:

“Our team has worked with Chester Zoo for eight years. The Zoo is one of the biggest visitor attractions in the UK, and the Islands scheme is a major piece of its ‘Natural Vision’ strategy this has been a unique, challenging and rewarding project to have supported.

“Chester Zoo is immensely important to the region. Our team was able to draw upon both their local knowledge and their experience planning internationally significant projects and we are delighted to see its development.”

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