Horticulture braced for change following vote for Brexit

The horticulture industry is braced for change after Britain votes to leave the European Union, causing the pound to tumble and Prime Minister David Cameron to resign.

Cameron said he would aim "to have a new prime minister in place by the start of the Conservative party conference in October". Sterling has lost value since the results became clear.

A majority of people in horticulture heartlands such as East Anglia and Worcestershire voted to leave. Reaction to Brexit is emerging across all sectors of the industry: 

Farmers need Government commitment "as a matter of urgency"

NFU President Meurig Raymond said: "The vote to leave the European Union will inevitably lead to a period of uncertainty in a number of areas that are of vital importance to Britain’s farmers.

"Our members will rightly want to know the impact on their businesses as a matter of urgency.  We understand that the negotiations will take some time to deliver but it is vital that there is early commitment to ensure British farming is not disadvantaged. It is vital that British farming is profitable and remains competitive, it is the bedrock of the food industry – Britain’s largest manufacturing sector. 

The NFU’s principles will be:

  • To achieve the best possible access Europe’s markets, which will remain extremely important to Britain’s farmers.
  • To get access to markets in the rest of the world, while ensuring we are protected from imports which are produced to lower standards.
  • To ensure our farmers and growers can get the necessary supplies of labour, both seasonal and full-time.
  • To build a British agricultural policy which is as simple as possible, adapted to our needs and guarantees parity of treatment with European farmers, who will still be our principal competitors. There must be a common framework of a British policy, while allowing a necessary degree of flexibility to devolved governments.
  • Regulations and product approvals must be proportionate and based on risk and science."

Crop protection

Commenting on the UK’s EU referendum result in favour of ‘Leave’, Nick von Westenholz, chief executive of the Crop Protection Association, said:

"The EU referendum has provided a welcome opportunity to scrutinise current agricultural policy, and shortcomings in the way poorly managed regulations damage the competitiveness of UK farming has been a key concern. We now have a unique opportunity to shape the regulations governing our farming sector for the benefit of UK farming.

"We need to better support our farmers to bring healthy, safe, reliable and affordable food to tables across the UK. To do this, we need a regulatory environment that fosters innovation and incentivises the development and adoption of new technologies in pest control and crop science. It is now time to work with the government to put in place an agricultural policy that supports UK farmers, allowing them both to compete and trade with the rest of the world.

"The UK’s vote to leave the European Union (EU) cuts to the very heart of a crucial debate over support for British farming. The Crop Protection Association is calling for a new and improved system that champions a science led regulatory approach and which supports UK farmers in ensuring a healthy, safe, reliable and affordable food supply."

Plant traders express concern

Javado's Chris Campbell said: "Most people in the horticultural world I have spoken with before the vote were firmly in favour of remaining in as they recognised that the plant world was now one of interdependence across Europe.

"This allowed young plant material to flow from producers on mainland Europe to UK growers without hindrance whilst the supply of finished plants to compliment the UK production was equally as important to provide additional availability to the garden centres.

"Whilst border controls are important to all of us we do not want to find impediments coming into  place to complicate the movement of plants into or out of the UK tying us up in  red tape which may prove more difficult that we have enjoyed in recent years.

"The immediate fall of only around five per cent  in the value of the £ against the euro which is yet to settle out still leaves imported plants good value.

"However it may have a more damaging effect on long term EU imported food prices for the country which will be more far reaching for all.

"The buffer of £250 billion created by the Governor of the Bank of England is a welcome strategy to help stabilise the situation for the country as a whole."

Dutch growers expressed strong views with one Dutch horticulturist telling HW: "In the end the politicians are to blame. They have been unable to address the refugee issue correctly and I guess, this is one of the main reasons why the Brits have voted against."

Gardenex and PetQuip export federations see "challenges"

Gardenex director general Amanda Sizer Barret said: "Now that the British public has made its decision regarding European Union membership, the Gardenex and PetQuip associations will continue to work hard to help and support our member firms with all their export aspirations.

"We are already best placed to support exporters, with our comprehensive range of practical export advice and information, market research and information and new international business contacts -- both within and outside the EU.

"So although there will inevitably be challenges for British companies, particularly in the shorter term as markets and countries absorb the decision, we will be working hard to provide the hands-on practical help, trade information and business introductions that British exporters in all of our sectors will need, in order to ride the uncertainty following the Referendum results and to open up new business leads and seize fresh export opportunities.

"We are fortunate that our growing body of members is innovative, entrepreneurial and pragmatic and ready to seize opportunities wherever they arise in the world.  Therefore we are confident that in the longer term, British exports of garden, leisure and petcare products and services will continue to increase in established markets and develop in new territories and emerging markets around the globe.

"The Federation was in existence and helping exporters for many years prior to the UK joining the EU. Now that the decision has been made to leave, the Federation's experienced team is looking forward to supporting current British exporters and giving practical help to firms who are ready to start exporting".

Local authorities will be affected

The Association for Public Service Excellence which works with over 300 local councils throughout the UK said the UK referendum vote to leave the EU has a fundamental impact on local government.

"APSE recognises that many local government regulations and functions, whilst set within a UK legislative framework, are also governed by European Union regulations. Whilst many may continue unchanged in the short term, and during the exit negotiations with the EU, local government must be fairly represented within a national public service context," the association said in a statement. 

"APSE is calling upon the Government and all political parties to ensure local government services are protected. A future domestic framework, governing matters such as freedoms and powers for local councils, procurement regulations, environmental protection regulations, employment matters for the local government workforce and, most importantly, council budgets are treated fairly with the full involvement of the local government sector. In developing alternative plans, policies and any necessary legislative changes, local government needs to be fully consulted". 

Environmental campaigners express "shock and concern"

Friends of the Earth say leaving the EU means that "many vital European environmental protections will cease to apply". Friends of the Earth will be campaigning to make sure that these protections are upheld and not watered down, despite our exit from the EU.

Friends of the Earth chief executive Craig Bennett said: "The environment must be at the heart of our negotiations with Europe and how we create a positive future for our country. We cannot let the UK return to the days of ‘the dirty man of Europe’. Protections for our birds and wildlife, our beaches and rivers, must not be sacrificed in the name of cutting away so-called EU ‘red tape’.  

"The environment was rarely mentioned during the referendum but it must now move up the political agenda. With urgent issues like climate change, air pollution and destruction of the natural world already impacting this generation, not just the next, we don’t have time for the environment to take a back seat through years of negotiations."

Environmental lawyers ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton called for all parties to promise to maintain environmental protections which had become law under EU legislation.

"We will use the months and years ahead to urge the UK government to live up to the EU laws which are currently on the statute books. Anything which weakens those laws would be a catastrophe for Britain’s environment."

Landscape designers bemoan Brexit

Garden designer Andrew Fisher Tomlin said on Twitter he was "heartbroken". He told HW: "I work with younger generations through our college and organisations such as Streetscape and I am heartbroken for these young people the vast majority of whom wanted to remain in the EU.

"Many have told me they will consider moving overseas if we leave which makes my heart sink that we lose so much talent. It will undoubtedly have a serious impact on horticultural colleges and landscape departments that rely on international students and for private colleges like my own we are already very aware in the first 24 hours after the vote that it will be a very different climate over the next five years at least."

On Twitter, Thompson & Morgan's Michael Perry said he had "shed a tear", while nurseryman/TV gardener Toby Buckland said: "Little Britain has just become a whole lot smaller." Garden writer Nigel Colborn said neonicotinoids "might be back in universal use" post Brexit.

TV gardener Monty Don said: "Well I truly did not believe that this would happen. However we will, as ever, muddle through. But it does feel like a terrible mistake."

Crug Farm Plants' Sue Wynne-Jones said: "For once in my life I am speechless. What on earth have we done."

Food academic Professor Tim Lang said: "Brexit shows UK establishment out of touch. Food in frontline. Beware TTIP world. Ugly intensification looms. Food movement must get organised."

However garden designer Janine Pattison was more upbeat, saying it was "easy to be all doom and gloom".

"But the reality is, having not only survived but thrived as a practice through the recession of 2008 by working exceptionally hard and offering an outstanding level of service, our attitude is ‘business as usual’. The world will keep on turning.

"Above all, we need to focus on training, training, training. We have a responsibility to continually develop the skills and capabilities of the teams we employ; encouraging them to work hard and contribute to the strength and depth of our industry."

A "backward step" for the environment

Landscape architect Noel Farrer - speaking in a personal capacity rather than in his role as president of the Landscape Institute - called the move a "backward step", and also raised concerns about the staff at his landscape practice, half of whom are European and could not vote in the referendum.

He said the move was "without a doubt a backward step for the environment" and warned that the UK government would not legislate with landscape in mind.

"The right decisions for all aspects of changes to the landscape and its on going stewardship are long term and joined up.  The decisions we need are by their nature altruistic and selfless because the investments we make in time and money are for the benefit of society and the environment in the future.

"This fundamental pre requisite is lost and disappears in a world where we are heading towards self control, thinking of one’s self rather than the wider community and reinforcing boundaries which in natural systems do not exist."

"The EU, through the European Landscape Convention and the legislation on clean water, pollution, recycling and fishing to name a few, are the [majority] of the environmental legislation that holds UK people to account on environment. The UK government does not and will not legislate responsibly towards our landscapes as it is practically impossible to do so within our legislature based on a five year cycle and the needs for short term financial returns."

The Landscape Institute had held a debate on the EU during the campaign as it was concerned that the environment was not being discussed in the wider debate.

The organisation issued a statement saying: "After the result of the referendum,  we do not know precisely what the impact on the landscape will be but we are committed to working with others to ensure that environmental issues are to the fore in future UK governance structures and our negotiations with the EU."

Uncertainty the biggest fear for contractors

Phil Jones, managing director of ISS Facility Services - Landscaping, said the move was a "momentous decision" by the UK.

"There seems to be a shock apparent around the country, not least amongst those who supported the leave campaign, who seem surprised to have pulled this off."

Jones, who is also chair of the BALI-National Contractors Forum, had predicted that the most significant effect of a leave vote would be the uncertainty that followed, which has now "clearly begun".

"Those in our sector will probably not experience much change initially, but will be keen to secure assurances that where we deal with the other EU countries through trade of plants, equipment and materials, that we will not suffer any detriment. Indeed the best way to deal with change in my experience is to seek to benefit from such change.

"It is now for our trade associations and those others who represent us at sector and national level to ensure we are kept safe from volatility which could be to the detriment of our industry. We have a tremendous spirit in the land based sector, particularly in amenity horticulture and I'm sure this will help deal with the challenges that we are about to face."

Amenity professionals who use pesticides will need time to fully understand and respond to the changes following Brexit, according to Professor John Moverley, chairman of the Amenity Forum which represents the sector.

"The fact is that in the immediate term it is business as usual and, as the transition process moves forward, the Amenity Forum will seek to work closely with all involved.

"In terms of weed, pest and disease control, the UK has adopted the Sustainable Use Directive in its National Action Plan and nothing therefore is again set to change in the immediate term. The UK has been a leader in promoting and adopting best practice and again the Amenity Forum, acting on behalf of the sector, is ready to engage with UK government in months ahead.

The forum would work to keep amenity professionals informed and will focus on the repercussions at its 13 October conference, he added.

"Challenging times" for business

BALI has pledged to support members through what will undoubtedly be challenging times for businesses.

Chief executive Wayne Grills said: "There will be members who will be celebrating this morning and those who will be looking at the future with genuine concerns for how Brexit will affect their businesses and ultimately their families’ futures.

"No-one has taken their decision lightly and it is BALI’s role to offer guidance and support to its members through any immediate impact from the Brexit vote."

In the immediate term BALI will be speaking with other industry bodies and the All Party Parliamentary Gardening and Horticulture Group (APPGHG) to establish as quickly as possible how the industry can protect its interests.

BALI is also the UK’s representative body within ELCA – the European Landscape Contractors Association – and BALI Technical Director Neil Huck of Ground Control is currently ELCA Vice President. It is anticipated that BALI will be able to continue its membership but once the UK exits the EU it will have no further role in influencing ELCA’s lobbying of the European Parliament on European issues.

Grills continued: "The UK landscaping and horticulture industry will have to come together quickly to formulate an action plan designed to assist governments in prioritising those areas that will affect us in the short to medium term. We will keep our members informed every step of the way and work to ensure the ‘Leave’ decision allows them to continue to prosper, whatever course of action lies ahead." 

Retail view

Garden centre analyst Neville Stein said: "The decision to leave the EU will undoubtedly bring some insecurities as there are a huge amount of unknowns. We need to work hard to ensure that European markets remain open, free and unfettered by regulation and that we can continue to ensure that there is a free movement of plants around the continent. There is concern that the Brexit vote might eventually restrict the flow of migrant labour into this labour intensive industry which has for many years relied upon migrant labour to harvest crops - this has been particularly important during periods of strong economic growth. So, I see a need for more lobbying to reintroduce schemes like SAWS - seasonal agricultural workers schemes.

"Perhaps, though as important is to ensure that we remain calm as an industry, not accentuate the threats or challenges but ensure that we remain positive about the prospects for UK horticulture. We don't know what will happen but we need to ensure that our economy continues to prosper, that the relationships we have developed with European partners, suppliers and customers remain strong, open and constructive."

HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin said: "It's too early to tell what the implications will be. With the markets in turmoil and the pound nosediving, we just need to focus on stabilising the business environment in the immediate short term."

The Garden Centre Association would not comment.

The view from the planning world - from our sister brand, Planning Resource: 

David Bainbridge, planning partner at consultancy Bidwells, said: "The result is not what most commentators in the development industry wanted. This is because of the uncertainty separation brings for investment decisions.

"Confidence drives investment decisions. The trend recently has been to delay these decisions pending the result and so there is some ground to make-up but in a period of uncertainty for the economy.

"The Government has clear targets for house building allied to the Housing and Planning Bill much of which has yet to be implemented.

"The result will not significantly change the planning system as the plan-led system but importantly the emphasis on delivery under policy guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework is set to remain. If anything the result might strengthen the Government's policy of support for housebuilding.

"Over time EU regulations and treaty provisions, in particular Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment, will no longer apply but the objectives will carry on in new national regulations to arise out of the split. No doubt the Government will continue its policy of tempering restrictive regulations in order to free-up land, especially previously developed land, for development."

Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: "The negotiation process is going to be long and complicated, and there will be many unknowns ahead. Our priority is that the government maintains focus on existing national priorities such as housing and that it makes decisions on major infrastructure projects, such as airport capacity and maintaining momentum around HS2, swiftly."

David Orr, chief executive at the National Housing Federation, said: "We recognise the uncertainty that this result will bring to the sector and we are working with our housing associations members to support them to continue delivering the homes and services this country needs.

"Whatever happens there is still a housing crisis and we remain committed to ending it."

In a statement, the Local Government Association warned that Brexit would result in a loss of EU structural funding.

"Communities in England have been allocated £5.3 billion of EU regeneration funding up to 2020. It is important for the Government to guarantee it will protect this vital funding to avoid essential growth-boosting projects stalling and local economies across England being stifled," the statement said.

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