Landscape work picks up despite shortage in skills

Landscape work is continuing to pick up across the country but the sector's growth is still hampered by the skills shortage, particularly in the south. Nurseries are reporting around 10 per cent increases in year-on-year sales as the housing sector booms and infrastructure projects and upgrades continue.

Marshalls Fairstone Sawn Versuro paving
Marshalls Fairstone Sawn Versuro paving

Rochfords, Coles Nurseries, Hillier Nurseries, Robin Tacchi Plants and Majestic Trees all report strong landscape sales, with work strong up and down the country (see p31). In the South East, high house prices are giving developers extra cash to splash on landscaping, but work in the Midlands is also booming.

NT Killingley soft landscape director Simon Ellis estimates work for the Midlands-based company is up 20-25 per cent in the past year. But that reflects how badly the area was hit by the recession, with the work still not at pre-recession levels, he added. "We have seen an increase across housing, industrial, education and hospitals, and lots of it is Government money," he said.

"We are definitely seeing an increase in the quality of work going into the ground as well. They are spending more money on better quality and bigger trees." Commercial clients and local authorities are spending more on tree pit construction, he added. "They seem to be investing in the future, not just getting things in the ground to suit planning requirements."

Ellis said the skills shortage has not yet affected the local soft landscape market but skilled hard landscapers are scarce. "There's quite a lot of high-end paving, granite and stone being laid and there just aren't the people out there able to lay it."

BALI chairman Bob Field, who runs Robert Field Landscapes in Cornwall, agreed work is booming but said the skills shortage is hitting companies hard in the south and South East, preventing many from expanding even though the work is there. "All our members are very busy, with commercial jobs, domestic jobs, large and small. Times are getting better so that is good news," he added.

"But people are having to turn work down because they haven't got the skills. We are back near pre-recession levels of how we were with the skills shortage situation and it is not going to go away any time soon."

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