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ST Andrews University has pledged to consult with residents and local organisations over the future of the award-winning Botanic Garden in St Andrews, one of the town’s most popular visitor attractions.

The 18.5-acre facility - described as “a hidden gem in Scotland” - is owned by the university, but is leased to Fife Council, who manage and operate it.

However, the current 25-year arrangement is due end in September of next year and it has become clear that the local authority and the university are facing serious financial constraints and there is now a need to review the present position and consider ways in which the facility can be sustained in the future.

The current subsidy, which is wholly borne by the council, is around £300,000 per year.

Options for its future management have been discussed by the Botanic Garden’s Working Group at a meeting chaired by local Fife Councillor Robin Waterston and involving representatives from Fife Council, and other key stakeholders, the Botanic Garden Education Trust and the Friends of the Botanic Garden, when consideration was given to recommendations made in a report by Edinburgh-based environmental consultants Natural Capital.

The primary purpose of the 70-page study as set out by the university and the council is to assist the key stakeholders in determining the future direction of the facility and to help develop an outline preferred option for a sustainable way forward and the alternative management models are now under scrutiny.

The consultants were commissioned by the university and the council to explore what future form and direction the Garden might take to safeguard its future possible alternative delivery models that could harness the commitment of the key partners and other stakeholders.

It has emerged that having given careful consideration to the report, there is broad support among the interested parties for the creation of a charitable trust to run the Garden.

Speaking to the Citizen, Councillor Waterston said,”The Garden is facing great challenges and we must make sure that the correct structure - and funding - is put in place from the outset. No decisions have yet been made and we will keep the community informed of all developments.”

Grant Ward, head of leisure and cultural services with Fife Council, added,”The Garden is an important horticultural asset and has provided high quality educational and recreational opportunities to the local community and visitors to St Andrews for more than 50 years. Fife Council remains committed to supporting a new delivery model that will ensure a sustainable future for it.”

It has been recognised by all parties that the changes proposed present a rare opportunity to improve the Garden’s governance and management arrangements and pave the way for investment in new facilities.

Chairman of the Friends of the Botanic Garden, Louise Roger, said,”We welcome the university’s commitment to look at ways in which it can help fund the proposed trust and we will continue to work closely with them to find a solution.

“We know from our recent visitor survey that the Garden is highly valued by the local community and visitors to St Andrews so I would urge as many people as possible to show their continued support for it by visiting frequently over the coming months.”

Consultations and discussions on range of ideas and possibilities put forward by the community and other parties will continue over the next 12 months before a final option is chosen.

Stephen Magee, vice-principal of the university, said,”We know that the Botanic Garden is very important to St Andrews and much valued by local people and visitors alike. We are committed to continued close working with the Friends and other interested parties to find ways of ensuring it has a sustainable future.”