The University of St Andrews has agreed to lease its Botanic Gardens to a local trust at a peppercorn rent of £1 in the hope that the gardens can be maintained as a viable local attraction.
Meeting in St Andrews today, the St Andrews University Court considered a business plan prepared by the Friends of the Botanic Gardens which proposes the Gardens be leased to a new trust.
The University has clearly and consistently stated that it has no strategic need for the garden, which has been leased to and operated by Fife Council for the past 25 years. Fife Council has given notice of its intention to end the lease from September 2013.
Noting however that Fife Council will shortly consider a motion from St Andrews councillor Brian Thomson that the Council should extend its funding for the garden for a further two years to give a new trust the chance to find its feet, the Court agreed:
- To grant Fife Council or an appropriately constituted trust, a free lease of five years in the first instance, rolling thereafter, for the operation of the site as a Botanic Garden.
- That to ensure good governance and the independence of the trust, the university should not be a member of the trust.
- That the lease to the trust apply to the cultivated garden and that other areas of the site such as industrial yards and non-cultivated areas remain in the university’s ownership and control for disposal, if it sees fit.
- That the University continues to have significant concerns about the long term viability of the Botanic Gardens and the lack of detail in the current business plan, given the consistently low numbers of visitors and users and that the business plan, as currently drafted, proposes increased costs.
- That the University continue to provide financial support to the St Andrews Botanic Gardens Education Trust.
Stephen Magee, Vice-Principal External Relations, said:
“Although for many years the University has had no academic or strategic use for the Botanic Gardens and cannot afford to take on the running costs, we are very sensitive to their importance to a number of people locally, as are Fife Council the current operators.
“In agreeing to grant a rolling lease to a new trust, we hope that we are giving people who care deeply about the Garden the chance to develop a sustainable plan for its future.
“It would be wrong and enormously unfair to them however if it was now assumed that the hard work had been done and the future secured. That is far from the case.
“We would like to take this opportunity to stress again that the Garden cannot succeed or survive unless it is used and visited by far more local people, tourists and visitors than is currently the case.
“If it is formed, the new trust will need the practical and real support of all those who have signed petitions in support of the garden.
“We believe that the Friends know, as do the University and Fife Council, that it is a case of use it, or very regrettably, lose it.”