Hayloft Plants highlights Brexit threat to nursery investment

A vote to leave Europe remains a cause for concern.

Hollyoak Nursery: the state of flux caused by the EU referendum campaigns has put investments on hold - image: Hayloft Plants
Hollyoak Nursery: the state of flux caused by the EU referendum campaigns has put investments on hold - image: Hayloft Plants

Hayloft Plants director Derek Jarman says the EU referendum is delaying investment in a new nursery his company bought last year.

Year on year sales growth at plant retailer Hayloft Plants, and a wish of the residents to remove some or all of the large continental lorries out of the village of Pensham near Pershore, led to the purchase of Hollyoaks Nursery, Pershore Road Comberton, Worcestershire in September 2015.

The nursery's glass extends to 2770m2 with planning permission, in perpetuity, to build a total of 10,000m2. Former owner Tim Morris died in a motorbike accident five years ago and the nursery remained empty until Hayloft bought it. The nursery has a benched transport system, two screens in the roof to keep in the heat and to avoid plant scorch, glass which is double glazed, high-pressure sodium lights, its own mains gas and a large electricity connection. This means the glasshouse can be held at +26 degsC inside while the temperature outside can be as low as -16 degsC.

Jarman said the bench transport system, while ideal for mono cropping one plant such as Phalaenopsis, is not workable for packing mail order plants. This means it will have to be sold this summer/autumn and removed from the glasshouse which he was having difficulty doing knowing how much it cost to install.

"Plans to develop and use the site are on hold pending the result of the EU referendum. A vote to stop in the EU would be business as usual which involves the free movement of plants and labour across Europe and investment in Hollyoaks Nursery. A vote to leave Europe would, in my opinion, lead to several years of uncertainty, a likely and dramatic increase in costs and a subsequent reduction in employment of both UK and European nationals with jobs at risk in both the offices and in the plant packing department. This would result in delayed or no investment at Hollyoaks Nursery."

He said current movement of plants across Europe, without interference at country borders, meant that plants from Hayloft Plants could be sold on the shopping channel QVC in Milan, Italy on a Thursday evening, packed in boxes at Pensham on Friday and be delivered to the QVC warehouse, one hour south of Milan, on Monday afternoon. The plants were delivered to QVC customers throughout Italy, including the island of Sicily, by the end of the week. This is why Hayloft Plants are the largest plant supplier to QVC Italy as well as one of the largest plant suppliers to QVC in London.

Jarman said: "A vote to leave Europe will no doubt destroy the Italian market for us as they often travel through France and there is no way the French government is going to say 'Carry on chaps, as you were' following an exit of the EU. Hayloft Plants have supplied QVC in Germany in the past and are expecting to supply QVC France in the near future, subject to stopping in the EU.

He said Polish, Lithuanian, Bulgarian and Romanian nationals may not want to come to the UK to work at Hayloft Plants and other agricultural and horticultural firms should Sterling reduce in value against other European countries, as predicted following an exit from Europe, as they will be facing a cut in real wages which are often sent home to their dependent families. He added that likewise, all the goods and services we purchase from Europe will no doubt cost more due to a reduction in the value of Sterling following a European exit.

Prior to joining the EU all plants crossing national borders had to be inspected and given a Phytosanitary Certificate, by Defra or the relevant body in the exporting country. Jarman said that Defra used to be provided by the government as a free service to agriculture and horticulture, but now they have to recover their high operating costs and these would be passed onto companies such as Hayloft Plants for each shipment of plants both into and out of the UK.

As to whether these costs could be recovered from retail price rises in the market place time would tell and price inflation would no doubt follow, Jarman added.

Building the enlarged glasshouse for plant packing at Hollyoaks Nursery, Little Comberton, to reduce the lorry movements in Pensham would come from either Germany or Holland and purchased in Euros, Jarman said. Assuming a vote to leave Europe, results in a decline in the value of Sterling the glasshouse and associated equipment would cost more making the investment less certain and the payback longer, he believes.

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