More indecision about Middleton adds to confusion over its future

Closure date set but garden is still planning for summer

Millennium Commission director Mike O’Connor travelled to Cardiff last week in a last-ditch plea to the Welsh Assembly to save the £43- million Middleton from closing. O’Connor met assembly culture minister Alun Pugh who, in public exchanges later, refused to budge from his long-term insistence that his government “will not enter into any open-ended revenue subsidy”. Pugh then admitted in plenary session in Cardiff Bay his officials had not met the chairman or officers of the national botanic garden near Carmarthen for three weeks, and that he had met chairman Alan Hayward before Christmas — leading to general expectation that the garden staff would carry out the threat to close on 1 March. It had also become known from trustees that the unknown rich benefactor in England heading a group of three organisations across the border, with which Middleton has been negotiating since just before Christmas, may not possess a pocket deep enough. The scheduled trustees’ meeting decided to set procedures for a 1 March closure and to continue planning for the summer season. General manager Rhodri Griffiths said: “The board meeting was adjourned until a few details are sorted out.” Asked what was being sorted out, he said: “Proposals for both continuing and closing.” Previous culture minister Jenny Randerson (Lib Dem) said: “I’m told there has been pressure from the UK government on Cardiff to keep it going. Tessa Jowell, the secretary of state, cannot afford another disaster when she is about to launch a lottery to help pay for the Olympics in London.” Randerson said Middleton is “playing a long game”. She added: “The trouble is that every time they talk about closing, some people think it has.” An extra element was thrown into the arena when Wales auditor general Sir John Bourn announced he is to examine what has been going on, followed by open assembly audit committee questioning. His concern is how the assembly and the Welsh tourist board handled the issue, not the politics.

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