A 15-year loan of public money to the National Botanic Garden of Wales could be extended again because the visitor attraction still can’t pay it back.

Carmarthenshire Council lent the garden £900,000 in 2005 and a further £450,000 two years later, with conditions.

Executive board members are now being recommended to extend the loan period and allow the garden continued occupation of three of four council-owned farmhouses to September 2021.

The report said: “The current arrangement ended on March 31, 2020, and the garden is not currently in a position to pay the outstanding loan amount of £1.35 million.”

Details of the loans and other revenue support since 2005 are summarised in the report.

The £900,000 sum was to be repaid when the farmhouses were sold. A more recent proposal has been to renovate and convert the buildings for student accommodation and holiday lets.

The report said the garden wanted an extension to allow them to raise funds and carry out the renovation work.

Visitor numbers to the Llanarthne attraction have increased from 114,000 in 2015-16 to an estimated 167,000 in 2019-20.

A birds of prey centre opened in 2017, and a £7 million parkland restoration project – backed by a £3.55 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant – got under way a year later.

In addition, a £2.3 million scheme to champion Welsh horticulture, plants for pollinators, the protection of wildlife and the virtues of growing plants for food and well-being was signed off in 2017.

The attraction has trails, an arboretum, bee garden, Edwardian pharmacy, outdoor learning area, garden centre and scientific collections.

Admission costs are £11.50 per adult and £5.50 for children aged five to 16, but the garden needs financial support from the Welsh Government as well as the council.

The garden reopened in July following three months of coronavirus lockdown.

The executive report said closure of the garden – not that anyone is suggesting this – would significantly damage the local economy and the image of Carmarthenshire, and undermine efforts to develop local tourism.

Executive board members meet on October 19 to discuss the report.

Garden director Huw Francis said it was working with the council and the Welsh Government to resolve the outstanding loan.

He described the attraction as economic anchor organisation and very important employer for Carmarthenshire.

He added: “The past few years have been some of the most successful in the history of the Botanic Garden, although operating during the Covid pandemic has been challenging in recent months, as it has been for many other organisations.”

©Llanelli Online CIC

 

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