Wales' botanic gardens facing closure

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The Independent Online

The future of the National Botanic Garden of Wales was in jeopardy yesterday after an offer of emergency funds by the Welsh Assembly was dismissed as inadequate. Alan Hayward, chairman of the garden's board of directors, warned it was facing closure in a "worst-case scenario" brought about by disappointing visitor numbers.

The Welsh Assembly has offered stop-gap funding to allow the garden, which has the biggest single-span glasshouse in Europe, to stay open during October. But Mr Hayward said: "The conditions attached to the offer are commercially, legally and financially unacceptable to the trustees. The Welsh Assembly wants to extend the garden's life for a month so they can possibly find partners.

"If they fail to find the partner, the money they gave us to help to pay the operating costs is to be repaid personally by the trustees back to the Welsh Assembly government. This puts the trustees in an absolutely impossible position."

He said talks with the Assembly would continue until tomorrow. Discussions are also being held with accountant PricewaterhouseCooper who are assessing the garden's financial prospects. Mr Hayward said all other national botanic gardens got public funds for non-commercial, science and education activities. The garden's workforce of 90 would be told the best-case and worst-case scenarios, which included closure, he said.

The garden, at Llanarthne, near Carmarthen, was renamed Middleton, the National Botanic Garden of Wales, this year. It is believed the directors had sought up to an extra £300,000 to see it through the rest of the financial year.

But the Welsh Assembly has already given it £1.4m in the past 12 months, part of which went on a marketing drive. The garden, among a handful of UK-wide Millennium projects, was opened by the Prince of Wales in a blaze of publicity in 2000. Despite initial success, the garden had fewer visitors than had been hoped, now 175,000 a year.

Visitors were thin on the ground yesterday but were horrified at the prospect it could be forced to close. Architect Junko Suetake, 36, of Tokyo, Japan, said: "Wales is known as a place which specialises in alternative technologies. This garden, and the alternative technology centre in mid-Wales, are known in Japan. This could be as successful as Kew Gardens. I can't believe it could close."