An interest-free loan to the National Botanic Garden of Wales has been extended again by Carmarthenshire Council chiefs.

The executive board unanimously agreed an 18-month extension at a meeting on October 19 because the visitor attraction, despite increasing visitor numbers in recent years, is still unable to pay it back.

The council lent the garden £900,000 in 2005 and a further £450,000 two years later, with conditions.

The money was meant to have been paid back at the end of March this year.

The garden, near Llanarthne, will also have continued occupation of three of four council-owned farmhouses to September 2021.

Council leader Emlyn Dole said garden bosses submitted a five-year business plan in 2017, and that "significant progress" has been made.

Visitor numbers have increased from 114,000 in 2015-16 to an estimated 167,000 in 2019-20.

A birds of prey centre has opened, and a £7 million parkland restoration project got under way in 2018, among other initiatives.

Pictured in 2018, PhD student in the wildflower garden
Prince Charles chats to staff at the garden during a visit in 2019

The garden has trails, an arboretum, bee garden, Edwardian pharmacy, outdoor learning area, garden centre and scientific collections.

Admission costs are £11.50 per adult and £5.50 for children aged five to 16, but the garden needs financial support from the Welsh Government as well as the council, which has also provided a number of revenue grants over the years.

The garden reopened in July following three months of coronavirus lockdown.

Cllr Dole said the garden was discussing plans and a long-term sustainability strategy with the Welsh Government.

"I'm happy moving this report and its recommendations," said the Plaid Cymru leader.

The report before the executive board said closure of the garden - not that anyone is suggesting this - would significantly damage the local economy and the image of Carmarthenshire, and undermine efforts to develop local tourism.

Speaking before the meeting, garden director Huw Francis said it was working with the council and the Welsh Government to resolve the outstanding loan.

Mr Francis said:  “The past few years have been some of the most successful in the history of the Botanic Garden, although operating during the Covid pandemic has been challenging in recent months, as it has been for many other organisations.”