The ex zoo boss behind controversial plans for a riding centre in Wasdale has spoken out after announcing on Facebook that the project has been shelved.

David Gill, who ran the former South Lakes Wild Animal Park at Dalton from 1994 to 2017, had submitted a planning application to the Lake District National Park Authority under the name David Rivera for consent to offer horse riding and carriage drives from his Windsor Farm.

It came two years after an application to renew Mr Gill’s zoo licence was rejected following a report from inspectors that revealed nearly 500 animals had died on site in four years.

But a Wasdale Riding Centre page post on Facebook yesterday morning said the plans were being shelved "for the foreseeable future" for health reasons.

It said: “It is with great regret and deep sadness that due to unforeseen health circumstances Wasdale Riding Centre will no longer be opening in May.

“It has been exciting preparing and getting ready for the adventure but we now must make the decision not to open as a business for the foreseeable future.

“All forward bookings will be contacted regarding your deposits. Thank you for your support throughout. Life’s circumstance changes in seconds and we have no control over it.”

It came after the Lake District National Park Authority received around 90 letters of objection to the plans.

When contacted about the announcement, Mr Gill simply replied: “No news, no story, no changes to anything.”

A national park authority spokesman said the application had not been withdrawn.

However, within hours of the post being published, the riding centre’s page has disappeared from Facebook. Its own website remained active, however, and it is understood Mr Gill has been taking advance bookings in anticipation of the business opening.

The centre's Facebook page has since been reactivated with yesterday's post amended.

The revised post said: "It is with great regret that due to unforeseen staff health circumstances Wasdale Riding Centre will no longer be opening on May 1.

"It has been exciting preparing and getting ready for the adventure but we now must make the decision not to open as a business until the planning and licence are issued.

"All forward bookings are unaffected by this. We expect to start taking bookings again as soon as the planning and licence is issued. Thank you for your support."

Responding to further questions, Mr Gill said he and his family were initially not aware of the need to secure change of use consent to turn what had been a private livery-style stables to a pay-to-ride centre. An application was submitted once they were informed, he added, but that is still to be decided on.

He said: "Until the planning is passed and licence issued, we could not in all fairness take any more bookings when we had no date confirmed for the legal licences in place."

He added that a key staff member was currently unable to ride.

And he said: "All rides booked will be honoured for sure as I am certain the licences will be in place within around six to eight weeks.

"We are aware that with a shortage of staff that taking too many bookings would be not advisable until we can find clarity to the situation."

Andrew Smith, assistant head of development management at the national park authority, said some of the 90 or so objections related to animal welfare and Mr Gill’s previous involvement with the zoo, which were “matters that cannot be taken into account” when deciding on the plans.

He added: “Consultation and assessment of the application is ongoing. A determination will be made in due course, taking into account policies and material considerations, including representations received on material planning matters.”

Among the objections was one from Maria Appleton, who said: “I wish to object to this application as I believe that this person is unfit to keep animals given his past history, and in addition this site is unsuitable for the purposes described, unfair on any horses to be made to ride/drive up this type of gradient. Please do not allow this to go ahead-animals will suffer.”

Other objectors raised concerns about the suitability of Wasdale’s roads for the project, and the safety of horses being used on them.

Because of the number of objections received, the decision would have to be made by the development control committee. The earliest possible date for that would be May 2.

Mr Gill would also need an animal activity licence from Copeland Council. A spokesman confirmed that the council had had pre-application discussions with Mr Gill but no application has yet been made.

He added: “Copeland Borough Council has carried out pre-application meeting with a resident who is in the initial stages of applying for a Riding Centre Licence. As with all applications, we provide information and advice.

“The premises hasn’t been granted this licence. Copeland Borough Council has been clear that this is dependent on the resident successfully obtaining change-of-use planning permission from the Lake District National Park Authority.

“If this permission is granted, Copeland Borough Council will then review the riding centre application and follow the legislation and guidance by DEFRA before arriving at a decision.

“The applicant has confirmed the proposed business has been advertised on social media and is choosing to take bookings in anticipation of successfully obtaining the relevant planning permission and licence.”