Welsh garden escapes closure on St David's Day to face next threat

Middleton given extra few days but saga continues

The National Botanic Garden of Wales, Middleton, has been given a couple more days of life. If last-ditch moves involving the Welsh Assembly, which has refused any long-term revenue subsidy, fail then the alternative is liquidation. In that case, a high-risk assembly strategy will kick in for the £43 million millennium project, with its overdraft of £1.7 million and liabilities totalling £2.3 million. The threatened closure on St David’s Day, 1 March, failed to materialise to allow time for Welsh Assembly civil servants to study a report just received from the garden’s professional advisers, PricewaterhouseCooper. A garden representative said after the regular monthly meeting that the banks had “agreed to keep the garden trading for a few more days”. He added that the garden had asked for a response from the assembly by 4 March. But there have been no signs of culture minister Alun Pugh shifting from his firm line, repeated to an assembly plenary session last week, that “no open-ended revenue subsidy is available” and that the £1.4 million that the garden is currently asking for over five years comes into that category. The Welsh Assembly declared: “We do not want to see the garden close.” Liquidation would lead to that, as the financial losses would be largely borne by the banks and the creditors. But, once in possession of the 230ha project, the liquidator will find his hands tied, say cabinet sources. He would find planning permission for housing refused, say assembly officials, because the site is in a picturesque valley in open country, over 1.5km from the outskirts of the nearest village in an area of low housing demand. The option of returning the land to farming would be difficult and slow. “The land possesses planning permission only for a garden,” the assembly said. “If an application is made to the county for a return to farming, the application would be called in by the assembly.” The assembly’s hope is that the liquidator will sell to a take-over group centred around an unknown individual in England who has been in talks since mid-December.

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