A nationally-renowned animal charity is appealing for help raising funds as it aims to realise its ambition of opening a world-class wildlife hospital and education centre.

The Wildlife Aid Foundation (WAF) had applied to move from its premises in Randalls Road, Leatherhead, to a new site between the M25 and the River Mole, which provides natural habitats for roe deer, kingfishers, and sparrowhawks.

Planning officers had recommended that Mole Valley District Council’s Development Control Committee reject the application for a two-storey wildlife hospital, vet centre and wildlife pens and aviaries at a new site in Woodlands Road, north of Leatherhead town centre.

But councillors approved the plans, and praised the charity – famed for fly-on-the-wall Discovery Channel documentary Wildlife SOS – for its “phenomenally good work”.

From May 2016: Scarface the hedgehog recovering at Wildlife Aid Foundation in Leatherhead after garden strimmer accident

From June 2017: First baby hedgehog arrives at Leatherhead animal rescue centre Wildlife Aid Foundation

The plans will now be referred to the government and may still be called in for approval by the Planning Inspectorate. Plans to dig ponds at the site will also need further approval from Elmbridge Borough Council.

Surrey Comet:

Simon Cowell (pictured above, centre), who founded the WAF 37 years ago, and continues to serve as its CEO, told the Epsom Guardian he was “delighted” with the decision, but that at least £5million would be needed to make the move.

“That was a bit of a turn-up, that meeting,” he said. “We went there with heavy hearts, but it was staggering that every single councillor voted for it.”

He added: “It paves the way for us to create a world-first, world-class wildlife hospital, education facility and significant wildlife corridor which will train vets to save British wildlife, become a repository of knowledge and best-practice and inspire young people to care about the world they live in.

“The new centre will be a feather in the cap for Mole Valley and Surrey and will help protect the region's wildlife.”

From June 2017: Baby rabbit recovering at one of Europe’s biggest animal rescue centres at Wildlife Aid Foundation in Leatherhead

Officers had recommended councillors reject the application on August 2, claiming the large build would be “by definition, harmful” to the green belt.

Surrey Comet:

But Leatherhead North councillor Howard Jones (pictured above) tabled a motion to vote against this, arguing any “harm” to the green belt would be outweighed by the “phenomenally good work” the charity does rehabilitating animals.

He also noted that in the past the council had approved applications from hospitals, charities, schools, and military rehabilitation centres because they make a “significant contribution” to society locally and nationally.

“I regard this is as a national charity doing phenomenally good work, and which is enhancing the reputation of the district, just by being in this district,” he said.

“What it is proposing on this site makes sense.”

From December 2015: Fox shot through the neck with arrow saved by Leatherhead animal charity Wildlife Aid Foundation

From January 2017: Leatherhead wildlife photographer 'devastated' after caravan with his life's work in is stolen

Cllr Jones added: “It is a wonderful charity, and it is just the sort of application that should engage special circumstances.”

Surrey Comet:

His motion was seconded by his Conservative colleague Duncan Irvine (pictured above), who cited Core Strategy policies – enhancing biodiversity and geological conservation, avoiding a recognised loss of key services and facilities, and reducing risk of flooding – as reasons to overturn officers’ recommendation.

For more information, or to donate, visit wildlifeaid.org.uk

To view the application, search Mole Valley District Council's planning portal for MO/2017/0555