Landscape sector hit hardest by recession since summer

The recession has been hitting the landscape sector hardest since the summer, according to reports from leading firms.

Landscape architecture, design and contracting have all been feeling the effects of the downturn, despite remaining relatively unscathed in the initial stages of the economic crisis.

According to Land Use Consultants principal Dominic Cole, it is a combination of projects taking a long time to come to fruition as well as increased competition that has caused the slump.

"We have been pitching intensely," said Cole. "In the past we would have won one in every three jobs that we tendered for, but at the moment every winning tender is coming in cheaper (than our bid). There are also jobs where we have been shortlisted but it has taken a year for a decision to be made."

Cole said the dip seemed to have become worse from May, especially on the historic landscape side, as firms that previously would not have bothered bidding are "casting their net wider".

"They are undercutting us substantially on cost," he explained. Cole added that the firm had avoided redundancies by encouraging staff to work nine-day fortnights or take sabbaticals.

Landscape designer Andrew Fisher Tomlin said enquiries were down and the residential side had been hardest hit since July. "People always say horticulture is the last to go into a recession and the last one out of it," he warned. "Everyone is having a hard time."

Former Generating Gardens director Nigel Webb revealed details of his firm's demise in June in an interview on www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk. He was forced to put the firm into voluntary liquidation after several planned jobs were pulled and now works for LDC Landscape Contractors in Guildford.

According to Association of Professional Landscapers vice-chairman Mark Gregory it had been necessary to offer discounts.

"It is a buyers' market," he said. "We have lost work to firms offering almost suicidal rates. There is a bit of panicking going on.

"The next six months will be testing but when the sun comes out in spring there will be a lot more confidence."

Cole agreed: "It is a confidence issue. I can't say there are green shoots but there are a few projects that have been put on the backburner for six months and if they move, then great."


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