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Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
Receivers fear at botanic garden
The Great Glass House at Middleton
Middleton is considered a science success
One of Wales' flagship millennium projects, Middleton, the National Botanic Garden of Wales, may have to call in the receivers.

The 43m gardens site at Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire, west Wales, is in discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government about another cash handout to see it through the financial year.

The garden - opened in May 2000 by Prince Charles - has already had 1.4m of assembly cash this year to ease its costs and fund a marketing drive.

It is understood ministers may be reluctant to hand over a further 300,000 and if the talks fail to resolve the situation by Monday evening the site, considered an icon of modern Wales, may have to be put into administration.

Middleton, then known at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, attracted 225,000 people in its first year, but by 2002 visitor numbers had fallen to 175,000.

Last spring it changed its name, calling itself simply Middleton, with the assembly government picking up the tab for the publicity campaign.

The gates at the restored double walled garden, Middleton
The gates at the restored double walled garden
The cash followed on from 360,000 from the assembly last year.

Last July, the site received a further 600,000 in a Lottery grant.

But the cash injections have not been able to head off its deepening financial trouble as the site has failed to achieve hopes that it would attract 250,000 visitors each year.

Research programme

Despite this, Middleton has been heralded as a design and scientific success story.

It took three years to create and boasts the largest single span glass house in the world, designed by Sir Norman Foster.

In addition to its educational work, the site also has a respected research programme - last year scientists collected seed for plant which was thought to have been extinct in Wales for 50 years.

In February 2001, the Institute of Welsh Affairs called for Middleton to have an annual subsidy for its research work.

It claimed Middleton's equivalent in Scotland has a subsidy of more than 5m.

'Secure the future'

A spokesperson at the botanic garden said there was no question of the site closing.

But Carmarthenshire County Council issued a statement saying it was "very disappointed that this national facility could be shut down".

Council leader Meryl Gravell said: "It would be a great shame, not only for Carmarthenshire but for the whole of Wales, if the National Botanic Gardens could no longer operate.

"As a board we have done everything asked of us by the assembly to secure the future of the gardens."

Plaid Cymru called on the assembly government to step in to help Middleton.

Carmarthen East and Dinefwr assembly member Rhodri Glyn Thomas said: "It would be a snub to the people of Carmarthenshire for the venture to falter due to a lack of Government support."

Mr Thomas said equivalent gardens in England and Scotland - at Kew and Edinburgh - received 20m and 6m respectively.

"The gardens and the people of Wales have been treated shabbily by the decision of the Labour National Assembly Government to wash their hands at this juncture," he said.

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