Industry welcomes political continuity ... garden cities more likely to go ahead

Election outcome buoys business confidence but concerns raised over more cuts to local authority parks' budgets.

Truss:  ‘empathetic’ influence
Truss: ‘empathetic’ influence

The horticulture industry has expressed relief at the continuity created by the re-election of a Conservative government at last week's election.

Liz Truss remains environment secretary, George Eustice has been promoted to Defra minister of state and Rory Stewart replaces Dan Rogerson as Defra under secretary.

Lord de Mauley's position remained unclear at the time of going to press. New Communities & Local Government secretary is Greg Clark.

Association of Professional Landscapers chairman Mark Gregory said the Conservatives' re-election had buoyed business confidence and meant there was "no lag" in consumer spending.

Gregory said: "From a purely selfish point of view, and for the small businesses out there, if a new government had been elected - whether Labour or whoever - consumers could be holding back a bit. They'd be wondering what a new government would do whereas there's a confidence with the Tories getting back in."

Gregory added: "We've had a rough run for two or three years, but consumer confidence is slowly coming back. All my members have been really, really busy, so there's a feel-good factor."

BALI chief operating officer Wayne Grills said: "It will allow some stability, consistency and hopefully some consolidation of the work that's already taken place ... rather than having to start afresh."

Grills said Truss was "knowledgeable and empathetic about the issues we face, including skills shortage issues. The downside for Grills was that the "austerity thought process" and swingeing cuts to local authority budgets would likely continue.

The only way forward for parks and green spaces was to have far more multiservice contracts, he said.

Landscape firms would need to find innovative ways to work with local councils who had drastically smaller budgets, perhaps partnering with other organisations to provide those services. However he understood some had already "squeezed the sponge" in terms of what they could provide.

In response to the election result, the Parks Alliance outlined an agenda to promote the cause of parks and ensure they were well funded. Vice chairman Dr Sid Sullivan said: "Our overall aim is to take action with the minister for parks to secure properly funded and maintained parks across the UK and describing the benefits that they contribute to government policy and the community's health and lifestyle.

"We also look forward to taking forward at the earliest opportunity the work commenced in the last parliament, and providing the Government with sound and rigorous advice and data about the assets that are the UK's parks and open spaces."

But Sullivan said spending cuts to local authorities' budgets would "undoubtedly continue".

"That is why it is so important that TPA meet with the new minister for parks, as a matter of urgency, and their civil servants to continue the work that we started under the last government and bring them up-to-speed about the contribution that parks make to their policies and the catastrophic harm that further cuts will cause - and cause to their health, and community well-being policies, and climate mitigation policies."

Institute of Groundsmanship chief executive Geoff Webb said the institute would challenge the minister for sport on issues the industry faced and press for stronger respect and understanding of sports turf management.

Town and Country Planning Association chief executive Kate Henderson said garden cities must be "much more than a political buzzword", adding: "They're not just beautiful, well-designed communities with tree-lined streets, full of gardens, parks and places to grow food. They're actually underpinned by land value capture - meaning that when you give new communities consent to build houses, that increases the land's value and that value has to be invested back into the community and its infrastructure.

"Part of the garden city model is to build that in from the offset so that communities know this city will be as fantastic or more fantastic in 50 years' time. But also, ensuring that it belongs to the community and they have a real say in its development."

What does the new Conservative government mean for the industry?

"To a large extent Defra's platform would be a continuation of its current agenda. Investment would be focused towards rural affairs policies with a Conservative pledge to invest £3bn for the Common Agricultural Policy.

With the departmental cuts from the last Government and the potential for more efficiency savings, funding will continue to be a challenge for the industry.

The industry will want to watch how the likely EU referendum and renegotiations of UK membership might impact the adherence to EU legislation. Defra will likely focus on improving biodiversity and plant health, extend green corridors particularly along HS2, protect public forests and plant 11 million treesand create pocket parks. The Conservatives have also committed to setting up the Natural Capital Committee.

The Conservatives promise to increase the number of apprenticeships."

Abby Yolda, administrative secretary to the All-Party Parliamentary Gardening & Horticulture Group and Bellenden account director

Parks Alliance wish list

1. Appoint a Minister for Parks as a key priority, ensuring that they have a good understanding of the sector and meet with its representatives as a matter of urgency.

2. Invest in the sector to help it generate its own income. Further cuts will lead to inefficiency and few tangible savings.

3. Establish an independent national commission to investigate the State of UK Parks, as highlighted by the Heritage Lottery Fund's report The State of the UK's Public Parks (June 2014).

4. Work with local authorities to provide and protect funding for parks that are vital to national health and well-being.

5. Work with local authorities across the UK to identify a 'Park Champion' in each council.

6. Support the creation of a national standard to map and measure the quality of all green spaces.

TCPA Garden City principles

Strong vision, leadership and community engagement;

Land value capture for the benefit of the community;

Community ownership of land and long-term stewardship of assets;

Mixed-tenure homes that are affordable for ordinary people;

A strong local jobs offer in the garden city itself & within easy commuting distance;

Imaginatively designed homes with gardens in healthy, vibrant communities;

Generous green space linked to the wider natural environment, including allotments;

Strong local cultural, recreational and shopping facilities in walkable neighbourhoods; andintegrated and accessible low-carbon transport systems.

Commercial horticulture representatives also welcomed the Conservative election victory, saying it will help push forward policy issues.

The Horticultural Trade Association's (HTA) Raoul Curtis-Machin said: "We think it's good to have the stability, particularly with the Ornamentals Round Table."

He said Garden Cities and HS2 were now more likely to go ahead and the threat of a hung Parliament and another election this year were now gone, which were prospects the HTA were "dreading".

But he said there were downsides, such as fewer prospects of expanding Sunday trading and keeping Defra's independence.

For Scotland, where the Scottish Nationalist Party took almost all the seats, he said there was "interest" from SNP MPs in horticulture and he hoped many would attend an HTA reception at the Scottish Parliament on 27 May.

Post election, issues the HTA is working on include a public consultation around invasive species. He said rhododendron hybrids, crocosmias and cotoneasters were being "demonised" as potential species to ban, adding: "There's a lot of ridiculous sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut thinking so we're lobbying for a common sense approach."

He said glyphosate and neonicotinoids would be on the agenda and need field-based studies to stop them being banned without evidence they are damaging human health.

A Grow event will be on at City Hall on 6 July to re-focus the careers organisation, which Curtis-Machin heads, post-election.

NFU president Meurig Raymond said: "A lot of the Conservative manifesto marries into the NFU's - championing British farming, a 25-year food plan, science-based policy making rather than emotion. We want to increase exports and grow British farming."

Hayloft Plants' Derek Jarman said: "The Conservatives will continue to repair the economy caused by Messrs Brown and Balls. This will generate the wealth to give us the prosperity we desire, to fund education and the health service. Cameron's pledge to give the people their say on Europe's future will be interesting, but as the election shows, the public are not stupid. Labour's pledge to remove zero hour contracts is no longer a looming threat and competition within the power industry should return. Both the stock market and the pound have strengthened which is good news for those with pensions."

Consumer spending - Confidence high

Garden Centre Association chairman Will Armitage said: "Consumer spending always is a lot more confident after an election regardless of the outcome."

The Garden Industry Manufacturers Association said: "The British public have voted for continuity and so for the GIMA membership and many businesses around the UK it's business as usual."

Gardman sales director Steve Harper said: "If we take out a couple of bad weather years the industry has done ok in the last few years. People will spend money if they believe generally things are stable. If there's the potential for change they'll put money away to save."

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