Plans to start a tree-planting programme for up to two-million trees in 2017 mean UK nurseries need to start sowing or potting up immediately, but with contract details still under wraps growers do not know how many trees, what sizes and what species are required. Tight production schedules and a lack of spare cash mean the nurseries are unwilling to grow stock on a speculative basis.
Horticulture Week understands that HS2, the company responsible for developing the railway, had been on track with a procurement strategy until it lost a key management figure from the procurement team last year. Questions put to the company by HW about the current state of the tree-procurement contract have so far gone unanswered.
Many details of the contract are still up for discussion. One source said the company had floated the idea of planting teams working simultaneously up and down the line from London to Birmingham - leading to concerns that there would be too few contractors in the UK to carry out the work. Landscapers should gain further clarity shortly about opportunities for subcontracting. Hard and soft landscapers, invasives specialists and vegetation clearance companies were invited to a "Meet the Bidders" event in Birmingham on 3 February, with the winners of three major contract packages to be announced later this year.
Suppliers involved in HS2 meetings have signed confidentiality agreements. However, UK growers spoken to by HW reiterated concerns that there will be insufficient time to grow stock, which could make HS2 a wasted opportunity if the company ends up looking to Europe for trees.
One source said: "In forestry terms it's not that big a contract over the years it covers or the size and types of plants involved. But the question is whether they will be growing British or whether they will be dealing with disease and import issues. They are looking to make this a shining example of how to set up a contract, but if they're not quick they will lag behind."
The HTA's Raoul Curtis-Machin said as part of the Ornamental Round Table action plan: "We have been banging on for ages about trying to get the Government to engage the industry much earlier than they do. But it has been a struggle to get the message across."
Poor communication between Government departments appears to be part of the problem, he added. But he said the HS2 contract is "making progress" and they are well aware of the need for good lead-in time for growers.