Kew boss Andy Jackson has spoken of his personal anguish and heartbreak over the decision to bring in parking charges at Wakehurst Place.
The move, which has sparked a huge reaction, is the result of 10 years of trying to make ends meets at the world class botanical gardens and five years of detailed negotiations with owner the National Trust.
The charges of £2 for one hour, £5 for two hours and £10 for any longer are expected to generate £500,000 a year but will still leave a net annual loss for Kew of running the gardens of £850,000 to £900,000.
But most galling of all for Andy, who has given 25 years of his life to Wakehurst, is the built-in cost in terms of lost visits, which he predicts will be 140,000 every year.
“That saddens me just to read out that figure; nothing could make me more sad than that,” he said. “I get up at six o’clock in the morning to come to work to deliver a world class botanical garden and it breaks my heart to think that that will benefit fewer visitors.”
Andy, who lives in Ardingly, said his hope was that local people who love and treasure Wakehurst as much as he does, will be prepared to pay Kew’s £30 a year (£25 by direct debit) season ticket for Wakehurst, equivalent to 60p or 50p a week and entitling them to garden entry and free parking.
Those declining to pay either parking charges or season ticket will be National Trust members who currently pay nothing to park or visit the estate, including the separately funded Millennium Seed Bank.
The NT has leased Wakehurst and its Elizabethan mansion to Kew Gardens since 1965 with the proviso that Kew allows NT members to visit, free, three days every week. The NT has come under fire for paying Kew nothing, besides an annual endowment income of £80,000, irrespective of the fact that 80 per cent of Wakehurst’s annual 400,000 visitors are NT members.
However, Kew has invested heavily since its lease began to open the gardens to the public and to turn them into the outstanding attraction they are today. Unlike many other NT properties, which close during the loss-making winter months, Wakehurst has led the way by staying open 364 days a year in keeping with the spirit of Kew’s public mission. NT members go free all days, beyond the terms of the lease.
In addition, for the last 10 years Andy and his staff have developed the visitor centre, cafe and Stables Restaurant and opened to functions like weddings, generating a net annual profit of £750,000. But still costs outstrip income leaving an annual £1.4m drain on Kew.
Andy explained that 40,000 NT members were asked their views on the way forward before parking charges were decided.
Respondents voted against limiting opening, grassing over the borders and specimen beds or charging for entrance. The NT also refused to allow an entrance fee to be charged to its members.
Andy said: “I am really sad about it. I just want Wakehurst to continue to be a totally beautiful and inspiring place for as many people as it can be.
“I just hope, also, that National Trust people are prepared to pay a season ticket to Wakehurst as well, which is just 50 or 60 pence a week.”
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