The University of St Andrews (which owns the land) originally established the garden for teaching and research purposes in 1889, but
in 1987 the garden was leased to Fife Council for a 25-year period. This lease has been extended to March 2014 and there is hope that a new lease agreement can be achieved before this date.
Although, the University has offered the garden on a short-term (five year) rolling lease with a rent of £1 per year, this has been met
with disappointment by the Friends of the Botanic Garden, as a short term lease will make it much harder to attain the funding required for the garden’s upkeep.
The current economic climate means that Fife Council is unlikely to take on the lease for the garden. The University is also unwilling to
take on the cost of the garden as it no longer uses it for academic purposes. If a new lease cannot be agreed by March then the gardens will be closed.
Perhaps the most significant problem is that, as the University has stated, “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.”
Although the Friends of the Botanic Garden put together a business plan with suggestions that included the introduction of a larger cafeteria and an expanded education programme, the University has doubted the feasibility of the plan owing to its lack of detail, the increase in cost and the consistently low numbers of visitors. Yet if the proposals were carried out then the visitor numbers may, of course, increase.
The group are still hopeful that a solution can be found. Robert Waterson, chairman of the Friends group, said: “We’ve formed two working groups, one to raise the profile of the garden to try to boost visitor numbers, the other to engage with Council and the University to think creatively and co-operatively about imaginative solutions.”
The University commented: “We have stated clearly, openly and consistently from the outset of discussions over two years ago that we do not have an academic requirement for a garden, nor do we have the resources to fill the gap left by the Council’s decision to withdraw from the lease.”
“We’re disappointed the Friends view our offer so negatively, but it is simply a prudent response in the absence of a realistic plan to turn the gardens from a relatively expensive facility, run for relatively few people, to a sustainable attraction used by many more people.”