Edwards on... fighting for landscaping standards

In times of economic recession standards move downwards. The price of an item takes on greater importance than in better times. In the amenity sector, where price has an exaggerated importance at the best of times, that's particularly bad news.

Growers of edible crops for the supermarkets have recently noted a subtle change: there's a pick-up in demand at the lower end of the market - more produce is going into cheaper, own-brand labels. This is good for the consumer - if demand falls away for top-quality, top-priced products, that same product might end up in the own-brand bucket. It's also good news for supermarkets, which tend to make good margins on own-brand lines. Presumably, it's the grower who gets squeezed.

With supermarkets, you can be sure that when the economic cycle moves round to better times, things will quickly move back to normal. I have less confidence in this happening in the amenity market because there the rot goes much deeper. Corners are cut, specifications are dropped or whole areas of planting are cut completely to save money. Perhaps that is only natural; my real disappointment stems from a lack of confidence that we'll see these things reversed when the economy recovers. It's all too easy to let bad practice become the norm, even when the money is there to justify good practice and quality. Buyers get into the habit of driving for unrealistic prices. Contract managers get into the habit of cutting corners. And developers get used to the idea that a landscape is something cheap and unimportant.

One ray of hope shining out in these dark times is the HTA's Greening the UK initiative. It's well thought-out and ambitious, aiming to point out the importance of landscaping to the Government, developers and the public. It will ultimately go further by encouraging local government to ensure the landscape our industry delivers is the one our planners approved. It would be wise for our whole industry - landscape architects, contractors and nurserymen - to support the initiative as forcefully as possible.

Tim Edwards is managing director of Boningale


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