Land once home to Basildon Zoo has been sold for £1.5 million to a property development company set up by the council.

Sempra Homes, Basildon Council’s housing development arm, bought the site near Vange Primary School in December last year.

The land has been included in Basildon’s local plan, which details where housing should be built over the next 13 years.

The site is eventually likely to make up a key element of the development of the Tompkins Farm site – which may eventually see around 475 homes being built on land nearby.

Kerry Smith, Basildon councillor for Nethermayne, said: “At this stage, the local plan has not been agreed by the Government - the land to the north of it can’t be touched, but the council still own the zoo site.

“It could be any time from when the local plan is agreed to when it expires in 2035 before anything is decided.

“Sempra has stepped in and acquired the land before the local plan for the land to the north of it has been agreed, so the council is box clever - it’s bought that land at the best possible price.

“That piece of land will be built on but what the council is trying to do is get the best deal for the taxpayers of Basildon.

“That site already has planning permission on some of it for some bungalows, I understand.”

Mr Smith, added: “The zoo site has got opportunities for the taxpayer because it’s on London Road, it has the potential of putting a squeeze on any nearby developments, so it’s just a case of the council having bought it thinking ahead, because if the land for the north is agreed to be built on by the Government in the draft local plan, we can approach the landowners to say ‘can we talk about this and see if we can come to some arrangement that would beneficial for the Basildon tax payer?’”

Opening in 1973 on a site off London Road, Basildon Zoo was once home to birds, reptiles, and big cats.

However, in 2001 the zoo closed for the last time after facing complaints and protests about its conditions. A pet shop and garden centre still remain on the site.

Sempra Homes, which has developed homes in Billericay, Langdon Hills, and Laindon, was contacted for comment.