WAKEHURST’S director Andy Jackson says the National Trust is profiting by up to a million pounds a year from visitors who now go to Standen, Sheffield Park, Chartwell or Nymans rather than pay to park at Wakehurst.
The decision to charge National Trust card holders up to £10 pounds to park at Wakehurst has seen visitor numbers plunge by more than half since the change was introduced last April.
But charging for parking was the only option left to Wakehurst, says Andy, after the National Trust refused to consider other options to safeguard the financial future of the internationally important botanic gardens.
‘The fact is that 80 per cent of our visitors are National Trust cardholders who pay nothing at all to visit Wakehurst beyond any small margin we may make from sales in the restaurant or shop,” he said.
So with Kew subsidising Wakehurst to the tune of more than one million a year, it was imperative to find some way of putting one of the south’s major tourist attractions on a firmer financial footing.
Among the options considered were reducing maintenance costs by grassing over substantial parts of the garden or charging National Trust members a reduced admission fee – an option which the National Trust rejected, said Andy.
In the end a charge for parking was Wakehurst’s only option – if not its ‘preferred’ choice.
‘Other wholly managed attractions are paid a sum every time a National Trust cardholder visits – and if the National Trust had agreed to pay us £3.60 a visitor as they do elsewhere we would have been satisfied that this was an honourable and fair recompense to us for hosting their members.’
Andy also countered criticism that the cash-strapped gardens had spent £200,000 on the car parks at Wakehurst.
‘When it became clear that charging for car parking was our only option we had to put in the capital investment for infrastructure, cabling, software and barriers – it was a necessity forced upon us,’ he said.
But he is saddened that the beautiful gardens are now being shunned in favour of nearby National Trust properties ‘which have taken £1 million of our business away’.
And long term, the fear is that people will simply write Wakehurst off.
But Andy hopes that once the anger has died down, former visitors will reflect on the financial realities, and decide that 50p a week for a season ticket to park is a price worth paying after all.
“I am a public servant who has dedicated 34 years to inspiring people about the important of plants and the environment in their lives. That is all we are trying to do.
‘Wakehurst is a very beautiful garden involved in Global conservation through the work of the Seed Bank and in the preservation of Britain’s native wild plants.
‘And I would like to think that people who are as passionate about gardens and landscapes as I am would support Wakehurst’s future by buying a £25 season ticket.’