St Andrews Botanic Garden is blooming marvellous

Inside one of the glasshouses at St Andrews Botanic Gardens.
Inside one of the glasshouses at St Andrews Botanic Gardens.
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Exciting proposals designed to give the award-winning Botanic Garden in St Andrews a new lease of life are being formulated.

A steering group is taking forward negotiations between Fife Council and St Andrews University on the future of the 18-acre facility - described by many as “a hidden gem in Scotland” - and help secure its long-term survival.

The group includes representatives of the Botantic Garden Education Trust and the Friends of the Botanic Garden, and is chaired by local Fife Councillor Robin Waterston.

Owned by the university and leased to the local authority - for a peppercorn rent of £1 a year - the garden is one of Fife’s top visitor attractions, but faces uncertainty because of severe financial constraints.

The present 25-year lease is due to end next year and it has been made clear that with both the council and the university facing serious financial challenges there is an urgent need to review the current arrangements and consider ways in which the facility can be sustained in the years ahead.

The council is proposing to half its present £300,000 subsidy and the university has made it clear it will not make up the shortfall. Options already flagged up include the sale of two areas of the garden for residential developments.

Councillor Waterston told the Citizen: ”The steering group is developing a vision of a renewed garden.’’

He added: ‘‘It will be a garden of the future, which will attract and inspire new generations of visitors, locally and from further afield.

“It will have a new visitor centre and retail facilities, and will be expected to rely less on public subsidy. We are on the point of engaging the services of a professional consultant who is experienced in commercial enterprises of this type.

“The business case to support this vision under a new trust management will be worked out over the coming months with the consultant, and will form the basis of negotiations between the council and the university on the establishment of the new trust. This is an exciting and challenging project.”

Councillor Waterston explained that the target date for the transfer to the new trust is September 2013 when the current lease expires, while the steering group’s remit also involves exploring sources of additional funding and alternative working models for its management.

Last year, Edinburgh-based consultants Natural Capital were engaged by the university and the council to explore what future and possible alternative delivery models could be introduced and resulted in strong support for the creation of a charitable trust to run the garden.

While no decisions have been taken, it was hinted last summer that the present car park off Canongate could be offered for sale for the development of a small number of houses, which could result in a substantial sum to help set up a multi-party trust involving the council, the university, the Botanic Garden Education Trust, the Friends of the Botanic Garden and other interested parties.

In addition, a site previously utilised by the council as a depot might be considered for affordable housing to help raise capital for the garden, while an area used as a house for the head gardener may be considered for commercial development.

In the 60-page report, the consultants highlighted that commercial activities could include a cafe, a small retail outlet and, possibly, a new scientific or education learning centre

The university stressed the status quo is not an option, but it was envisaged that some 10 acres of the present site would be preserved as a garden,