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Thursday, 18 July, 2002, 15:08 GMT 16:08 UK
Dome warning for Botanic Garden
National Showcaves Centre for Wales
Fewer school parties are visiting the Showcaves
A leading tourism operator has warned the 43m National Botanic Garden of Wales could become the "Welsh Millennium Dome".

Earlier this week, the Welsh Assembly, gave the Garden, near Llanarthne in Carmarthenshire, a 360,000 grant because of falling numbers.


The Botanic Garden is effectively becoming a Government-run tourist attraction

Ashford Price, National Showcaves Centre

But Ashford Price, owner of the National Showcaves Centre for Wales, fears the assembly will have to keep pouring money into the Garden each year - to the detriment of other attractions.

The Showcaves Centre, at Dan-yr-Ogof in the Swansea Valley, is to close one of its three caves from next January with the loss of 20 jobs because it says it cannot compete with free-entry competitors.

The caves, which first opened to the public in 1912, were voted Wales's top tourist attraction for last year.

Mr Price said: "The Botanic Garden is effectively becoming a Government-run tourist attraction and, in addition, the policy of free entry to museums is causing terrific distortion in the market place. "

Admission charges to all the museums operated by the National Museum and Galleries of Wales were scrapped 15 months ago.

National Botanic Garden
Visitor numbers are down at the National Botanic Garden

Mr Price said the effect on Dan-yr-Ogof has been catastrophic, diverting thousands of visitors - mainly in school parties - away from the south west Wales attraction.

The impact of last year's foot-and-mouth crisis, which practically closed the Brecon Beacons to tourists, had also contributed to the problems at Dan-yr-Ogof.

"We are an attraction dating back more than 300 million years," Mr Price added.

Between 60,000 and 80,000 visitors are attracted to the caves annually.

Support

However, the numbers of schoolchildren visiting since the Welsh Assembly introduced free admission charges for Wales' museums has fallen by 65%, said Mr Price.

Despite a long campaign asking for the Welsh Assembly for aid, Mr Price received a letter from Welsh Economic Development Minister Andrew Davies earlier this week saying there would be no financial support.

Mr Price has been backed by Brecon and Radnorshire MP Roger Williams, who is calling on the assembly to fund free access to the Dan-yr-Ogof caves.

The Brecon Beacons National Park Authority says it "views with great concern" the possible closure of one of the caves.


Where I Live, South West Wales
See also:

16 Jul 02 | Wales
24 May 02 | Wales
06 Nov 00 | Wales
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