Role of Middleton questioned

Crising in funding for Welsh garden

Rescue of the closure-threatened National Botanic Garden of Wales should not be left entirely to the private sector, according to a prominent Welsh politician. Conservative leader Nicholas Bourne at the National Assembly for Wales has highlighted fears that the much-praised £43 million Millennium project at Middleton, near Carmarthen, risks being dumbed down. He said: “I would not like Middleton to become just a tourist attraction. As with the gardens in Kew and Edinburgh, it is an important scientific institution.” Preliminary talks for funding have opened with several potential investors — two names have been published: the Oakwood theme park in Pembrokeshire, and Martin Morgan, owner of a new five-star hotel in Swansea. During the assembly’s debate on the draft budget for next year, Bourne’s attempt to win a “fairly miserly” £600,000 annual assembly grant was ignored by finance minister Sue Essex. Essex said: “I made no reply because the issue is still in the hands of the trustees.” Bourne fears a major change to the nature of the garden, which lies in a wide unspoiled valley, if funding is all left to private enterprise. He said the assembly should have a couple of seats on the trust to safeguard educational, cultural and scientific aspects; he was seeking a grant worth only a 10th of that given to the Edinburgh garden. General manager Rhodri Griffiths said: “The Millennium Commission was very specific its money was for a botanic garden.”

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