Back in January of this year Cneifiwr took a look at the tortured financial history of the National Botanical Gardens at Llanarthne (here). What emerged was the story of a venture sold to the public as a viable commercial operation in 2000, but where hardly a year has passed since 2004 without a fresh bailout or rescue. And every time there is a bailout, we are told that the future is looking bright; new plans have been put in place, and more visitors will show up.
In March the Carmarthen Journal went to town with a massive splurge on the gardens, spread across three separate articles, including this one. Along with the daffs and the spring bulbs, optimism had returned:
Staff at the National Botanic Garden of Wales are looking to have a better second decade.
The garden needed rescuing within a few years of its opening, but
bosses now feel those days are behind them and that more realistic
expectations can give them a base from which to develop the garden over
the next 10 years.
Visitor numbers were again set to rise (here), and everything in the garden was looking lovely.
Roll on a couple of months, and the same journalist now tells us that Pricewaterhouse Coopers has concluded in a report that, "The National Botanic Garden of Wales ....is not financially sustainable without external funding. This position will not change in the foreseeable future".
Whereas the experts once confidently told us that the gardens would be self-sustaining, the preferred argument over the last few years has been that other major botanic gardens also need subsidies to survive, and they point to Kew and Edinburgh as examples. Kew Gardens date back to the middle of the 18th century, while Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens can trace their history to 1670.
The difference is, of course, that neither Kew nor Edinburgh were sold to us as great investments, and both are in major population centres.
The other argument which is always trotted out is that the gardens are "estimated" to bring millions of pounds into the county, although nobody has been rash enough to put a figure on that. The truth is, of course, that most visitors will visit the gardens for a few hours and then head off out of the county. Anyone desperate to empty their wallets and purses locally will be hard put to find anywhere to spend their cash, bearing in mind that the gardens are miles from the nearest towns.
Typically, the PwC report had to be obtained through a Freedom of Information request. Although it has been obvious for years that the garden could never become a self-sustaining commercial operation, the Great and the Good who run it persist in treating the public like idiots with claims that a corner has been turned, and that next year, or perhaps the year after, everything will come right.
The politicians, including of course the leaders of our county council, are no better as they peddle patently daft claims about how much the gardens contribute to the county's economy.
What the gardens at Llanarthne have in common with Parc y Scarlets, Garnant Golf Club and other Carmarthenshire regeneration projects (including the evangelical bowling alley) is that they are set to be a burden on the county for years to come, swallowing resources which could be spent on schools, social care and other bread and butter services.
All of these projects were launched on the back of completely unrealistic business plans, and all of the key decisions have been taken behind closed doors, with the public being fed fairy tales. Nobody has ever been held to account for the failures, and given the supine attitude of the Wales Audit Office, there is no likelihood of any serious investigation into any of these costly and disastrous decisions.
Time for the council to call a halt to the bowling alley project before that becomes another permanent drain on our limited resources.