Zoo group floats plan for national aquarium: London museum likely home for pounds 35m project

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THE BROADCASTER Sir David Attenborough has joined the Natural History Museum and a group of investors in a project to build a pounds 35m national aquarium at the museum in South Kensington, west London.

The announcement comes after negotiations broke down last week between New Zoo Developments and management at London Zoo. Officials feared the proposals for a giant walk-through aquarium would not fit the zoo's conservation focus.

New Zoo Developments, led by David Laing, of the Laing construction family, said yesterday that the tie-up with the museum marked a 'historic moment'.

Negotiations began yesterday, but the museum said it did not expect to have its first sight of the company's plan for a couple of weeks. It could say little about the possible site for the aquarium and an Imax widescreen wildlife cinema that will run alongside it. Much of the museum's property is listed, and planning permission is strictly controlled. However, buildings occupy only half of the museum's 14-acre site.

Sir David, who was appointed to the board of New Zoo Developments yesterday, said: 'The new high-technology style aquariums, such as those in New Orleans, Boston and Tokyo, are the most spectacular and beautiful way of displaying the natural world that has yet been devised.' Similar designs hosted 'whole mountain streams which develop into rivers', he said.

Zoo Developments said that the consortium hoped to open its aquarium by the end of 1995. Several other London sites have been suggested, including Docklands, King's Cross and Kew Gardens. The Natural History Museum is now its 'preferred' site, although the company said that if negotiations broke down it would build the aquarium elsewhere.

Meanwhile, a plan from an organisation called the Environmental Awareness Trust has emerged as a centrepiece for London Zoo's plans. This features a huge, multi-media educational project called Earth Focus, an interactive exhibit of the world's environment.

Colin Tudge, a zoo council member, dismissed concern that the Laing aquarium posed a threat to the zoo. 'We will get ourselves going very much sooner than they will.'

He said that the plan from the Environmental Awareness Trust would complement the zoo's own pounds 21m, 10-year rejuvenation plan. He said talks were at an early stage, but added: 'One of our key ideas is to open out the entrance area to the zoo to the general public. This project would sit nicely there.'