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Sunday, February 29, 2004

St. David's Day disaster

The irony in the fact that the National Botanic Garden of Wales may close tomorrow, on St. David's Day, has not been lost on the vast majority of Welsh people. After all that date has been chosen deliberately so as to put the maximum pressure on the Welsh Assembly Government to bail them out. My Party and I have consistently argued that the Gardens are a National treasure that need to be kept open and have urged the Government to actively intervene to prevent their closure. I understand that even the Westminster Secretary of State for Culture has expressed disquiet at the possible closure of the Gardens if only because of the message that it will send for other lottery-funded projects and the impact on the lottery-funded bid to bring the Olympics to London. The Millennium Commission have certainly said that they will seek to reclaim the £21 million grant they paid to the Gardens if they close.

In the Assembly last week there was a bid by the three opposition parties to force a debate on this issue. Unfortunately, the attempt to force the item onto the agenda was defeated by two votes, even though a Labour member was missing. One Plaid Cymru member was ill and unable to attend. Another had been allowed to pursue an alternative engagement despite the seriousness with which her party is allegedly taking this matter. The first was unavoidable but the second absence just underlines the inadequacy of the official opposition in holding the Government to account.

Meanwhile, the Wales on Sunday this morning reports that an eleventh hour meeting is in the offing to try and keep the gardens open beyond St. David's Day. I hope that this succeeds. However, it will not be the first time that closure has been averted at the last minute. The danger is that the Assembly Government will start to think that these deadlines are just tactics and are not for real. If that is the case then the Trustees are playing a dangerous game.

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