A VOTE of confidence was passed by councillors who believe a popular zoo can reform under new management providing former chief executive David Gill is cut loose.

The sole-shareholder of South Lakes Safari Zoo submitted an application to renew his licence in January 2016, but a meeting was called after inspectors cast serious doubts over Mr Gill’s control of the attraction.

Reports from local authority and secretary of state inspectors said: “David Gill seems to have little regard, bordering on contempt for the zoo inspection process.

“There is a refusal to take responsibility for any failings within the zoo.

“He is not, in the inspectors opinion, a fit and suitable person to hold a zoo license.”

After three days of intense discussions the licensing committee, chaired by councillor Tony Callister, unanimously rejected Mr Gill’s application.

A management team led by new chief executive Karen Brewer attended the proceedings and gave assurances of the hard work and commitment which had gone into improving the areas of concern within the zoo.

Miss Brewer said: “We are here to represent our vision to take this zoo forward. We have made it clear David Gill is not a factor but while the licence is in his name it has to go through him.”

The team has applied to transfer the license into their name, removing Mr Gill from the equation but scepticism was voiced over how much control the owner will retain.

David Shaw, the partner of zookeeper Sarah McClay, who died after being mauled by a tiger in 2013, attended the meeting.

He said: “I have no wish for the zoo to close but it’s been clear over the last few years, and few days here, that David Gill is a poisonous influence over the environment.

“I think the zoo want to make changes but change can’t happen without him leaving.

“I don’t believe in any way shape or form it will change with him there which has been proven time and time again.”

Inspectors conducted a special visit May and flagged up other areas of concern involving animal welfare and health and safety.

They labelled the zoo’s track record as “poor and particularly depressing” citing the preventable deaths of many animals but praised the ongoing improvements to veterinary services.

Committee members did enforce the closure of the snow leopard and wolf access ramp, anteater viewing platform and duck feeding platform until they are brought into line with national standards.

“We know we that we have weaknesses, said Miss Brewer.

“The zoo is a family, a family made up of staff, many are local and we are a fantastic team.

“Our demeanour throughout these days and working with inspectors shows we want to comply with any conditions you add.”

A meeting will take place on July 21 to discuss the proposed name change on the license.

The attraction has until November 4 this year to prove Mr Gill has no further managerial role.