What are major parties offering landscape sector?

Benefits welcomed but concerns persist over Brexit, immigration and labour supply.

Manifestos: consensus on housebuilding among three major political parties heralded as good for landscaping
Manifestos: consensus on housebuilding among three major political parties heralded as good for landscaping

Proposals outlined by the three biggest UK political parties have been broadly welcomed by landscape professionals who can see benefits for the sector as long as the manifestos are honoured, whichever party wins power after the election on 8 June. But concerns remain about Brexit, immigration, labour supply and trade unions.

Perhaps in recognition that the housing crisis has come to a head, the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats - the SNP was the third biggest party in terms of MPs in 2015 but does not represent the whole of the UK - all make firm promises to build significant numbers of new homes should they be elected.

In its manifesto the Conservative Party retains its 2015 commitment to deliver a million homes by the end of 2020 and half-a-million more by the end of 2022, as well as the reforms outlined in its housing white paper.

Labour says it will invest to build more than a million new homes, with at least 100,000 council and housing association properties a year being built "for genuinely affordable rent or sale" by the end of the next Parliament. It would also establish a department for housing to drive policy.

The Liberal Democrats are pledging to create at least 10 garden cities in England "with gardens and shared green space" along with jobs, schools and public transport as well as "new direct spending on housebuilding to help build 300,000 homes a year by 2022".

W Crowder & Sons chairman Robert Crowder says the Conservative Party's building targets "sound pretty robust" but questions whether they will prove to be achievable. He adds: "They are not achieving that now - they are well short of achieving it now. I don't think there's the capacity in industry to do that. I think that's going to be a tough pledge to keep."

But he points out that any housebuilding is good for the landscape sector. "What we're seeing is housebuilding is driving a huge demand for plant material. Housebuilders are at long last recognising the value of creating a great place to live and landscaping seems a really big part of that."

Design focus

The Labour manifesto talks about consulting on new minimum space rules to avoid "rabbit hutch homes" and says new homes would be properly insulated. The Conservatives say homes should not be "poor-quality" and urban areas "should be healthy, well-designed and well-tended places", adding: "We will encourage the very best practice in the design of buildings and public spaces." The party says it would "help councils to build, but only those councils who will build high-quality, sustainable and integrated communities".

Landscape Institute president Merrick Denton-Thompson says: "It's good to see the Conservative Party recognising the impact of the quality of design. The quality of homes must not be lost in the rush to build houses." However, he questions whether the country currently has sufficient capacity in the planning system to achieve this because landscape architecture as a profession has "haemorrhaged from local authorities".

Consultant Peter Neal says: "In acknowledging the current lack of infrastructure, the Conservatives emphasise the quality of design, parks and open spaces to turn housing areas into prosperous and sustainable communities."

A consensus on housebuilding is good for landscaping, according to Crown Group managing director Gareth Emberton, who points out that an integrated planning policy guards against creating slums. "If those places are attractive places to live, people are going to live there and have a different outlook on life," he says.

"The Tories are looking at social issues and trying to implement that through planning through the delivery of better-quality houses so people feel better about themselves, get a better education, better jobs. I think it's the right way to look at it. It's a bit fluffy. How it gets delivered in the cold light of day is another thing. But they are making the right noises. With Labour, it's great what they are saying about construction but, as far as delivery is concerned, I don't know."

Focus on infrastructure

Crowder, whose company will deliver the first HS2 trees this autumn, says a focus on infrastructure is also significant for the landscape sector. "We've already seen the impact that HS2 has had. There are other great infrastructure projects. Many cycle lanes involve landscaping and trees. That's all good."

The Conservative manifesto makes no mention of Crossrail 2. Emberton says: "The money would be better spent in the regions. Sainsbury's moved their offices from London to Coventry where it's cheaper. I think we've got to redistribute the economy across the country. From a Conservative perspective it's a good perspective to have."

Only "access to high-quality landscape or green infrastructure, promoting a town or country teeming with wildlife" can give citizens a healthy life, says Denton-Thompson. "Government has failed to achieve that abysmally."

Tree-planting pledge

The Conservative pledge to "plant a million more trees in towns and cities" has received a positive reception from the landscape industry, but Crowder is sceptical. He says achieving the target by planting a million seedlings in woodlands would not help the sector, but: "If it's a million ornamental trees that's massively significant. A lot of cities are responsible for forest. The City of London Corporation, for example, they could swallow up 50-100,000 trees without anybody noticing."

For nurseries looking at three-year lead times, a greater concern than funding is consistency, he adds. The Woodland Grant Scheme, for example has come in for criticism for this reason. Emberton is scathing on this issue: "The point about one-million trees is a joke. It doesn't really touch the sides environmentally as I bet the horticulture industry plants a lot more than that each year."

Denton-Thompson welcomes the Conservatives' pledges to help Natural England support farmers delivering "environmental improvements on a landscape scale, from enriching soil fertility to planting hedgerows and building dry stone walls" as well as improving natural flood management.

"We've got to also think about a productive landscape that carries on producing sustainable food but also all the other benefits - carbon sequestration, preventing soil erosion and so on." He adds that it is important that the Great Repeal Bill goes through the proper consultation process.

"I'm relieved by some of the things that are in the Conservative manifesto. Commitment to the 25-year environment plan is still there and that's terrific. Helping the farmers deliver a multifunctional countryside is a good thing."

Labour worries

Employers are concerned about immigration, however, especially the continued Tory pledge to bring net migration down below 100,000. "Immigration is a concern," Crowder confirms. "The nursery sector does employ immigrant workers. At a micro level we will get through that. We don't have huge numbers and we don't need to bring in huge numbers of migrant workers at certain times of year. But it's getting hard to attract young people into our industry."

Remain voter Marcus Watson, managing director at Ground Control, says he has accepted the referendum result but wants "to be able to continue to welcome people to the UK". He adds: "I'm hoping there's going to be a pragmatic and soft landing in any deal. We're in an intense period of negotiations at the moment. I think there's a lot of posturing. I hope the next Government takes the needs of business into consideration in terms of immigration for the health of the UK economy."

Horticulture careers

Emberton says it is important to focus attention and make horticulture careers "more sexy and more attractive", adding: "Whatever happens with immigration, as far as I'm concerned this is part of a bigger picture for us anyway. It's going to cause problems in the short term but in 10 years' time we'll be better off having focused on upskilling.

"I am concerned at the lack of youngsters coming into the industry. The people I'm recruiting are 45-50-plus. I think we need to go back into schools. People need to have made their minds up by the time they leave school. That investment in direct, pragmatic skills and not so focused on degrees is going to make us a more valuable proposition."

Watson says prime minister Theresa May's play for the working-class vote with the promise of improved workers' rights including sabbaticals to look after sick relatives or to undertake training, representation on company boards and increasing the National Living Wage in line with earnings until the end of Parliament is "all good stuff". He adds: "As an economy we've got pretty much full employment. As a result we're all trying to attract talent to our business. If we're going to attract the best we've got to put our best foot forward."

Emberton agrees. "There was an uproar when the minimum wage came in but it's a great thing. Maternity is 52 weeks now. Things have changed so much over the last 20 years. People are under so much pressure." He has children and aged parents to look after, while both he and his wife have high-powered jobs. "You've got to juggle it but you've got to be tolerant. People doing their jobs have become more flexible and employers have to be more flexible. If you are a proactive business owner or managing director you are empathic and you work around them naturally."

Watson says: "We do sabbaticals of up to three months. A responsible employer should be looking at these things." Giving employees the right to take time off for training should only be allowed if the training benefits the business, he adds.

Paying £10 an hour minimum wage by 2020, as Labour pledges, would not be as much of a problem in grounds maintenance, Watson suggests, because everyone in the UK would be on a level playing field, allowing Ground Control to remain competitive. But he is expecting inflationary pressures on grounds maintenance firms that will particularly impact those on long-term contracts. In addition, contractors would need to pass on the higher cost of labour to the client, which will be difficult for cash-strapped councils, or the clients will see the quality of service go down.

The company leaders are unfazed by the prospect of worker representation on their boards. But Labour's pledges to guarantee trade unions a right to access workplaces, repeal the Trade Union Act, roll out sectoral collective bargaining and enforce all workers' rights to trade union representation have produced a strong reaction.

"It's absolutely disgraceful to have trade union representation whether employees want it or not," says Watson. "It's taking us back the wrong way. It's a very poor policy in my view." Crowder is also dismissive of this policy. "The likelihood of Labour getting in at this election is pretty low and therefore it's not something I'm concerning myself with," he adds.

Parks - Lack of reference to open space disappoints green-space experts

Chairman of The Parks Alliance Matthew Bradbury says: "It's hugely disappointing that none of the parties said anything about existing open spaces." He adds that the commitment by all three parties to more housebuilding is positive but would see more people living in high-density dwellings, generally without gardens.

"All of the parties are recognising the need to build more homes," he says. "Both existing and new open space will become more important for recreation, for leisure and for exercise. Whatever party gets in they are all committing themselves to try and fix that problem. The fundamental problem of where do these people go for their fresh air, that's going to generate more pressure on public open space generally."

Parks consultant and Heritage Lottery Fund State of UK Public Parks author Peter Neal says: "Those hoping to see recommendations from the parks select committee picked up directly in the three main manifestos will be disappointed. However, all is not lost. They all include what now seems to be an obligatory promise to plant lots more trees." Bradbury welcomes a focus on public-health spending and mental health in the manifestos. "Parks have a huge role to play protecting and improving public health," he says. He would also be happy to see the "promised and promised and promised" 25-year environment plan finally published.

Manifestos - Key pre-election pledges from the three main political parties


Conservatives One-million homes by December 2020 and 500,000 more by end of 2022.

Labour Invest to build more than one-million new homes and at least 100,000 council and housing association homes a year "for genuinely affordable rent or sale" by end of next Parliament.

Liberal Democrats At least 10 new garden cities in England and new direct spending on housebuilding to help build 300,000 homes a year by 2022 plus £5bn of initial capital for new British housing and infrastructure development bank, using public money to attract private investment.


Conservatives Continue to invest in road and rail infrastructure projects and expand cycle networks. Encourage design best practice for buildings and public spaces.

Labour Create national investment bank as part of plan to provide £250bn of lending power for infrastructure over 10 years.

Liberal Democrats Garden cities to have "gardens and shared green space" and public transport. "Significant investment in road and rail infrastructure," including a continued commitment to HS2, Crossrail 2 and rail electrification. Invest capital in major transport improvements and infrastructure.

Brexit and labour supply

Conservatives Bring net migration down below 100,000 and increase the amount levied on companies employing migrant workers. "Secure the entitlements of EU nationals in Britain" and no longer be a member of the single market or customs union but seek "a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement".

Labour "Reasonable management of migration." Guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in the UK.

Liberal Democrats Fight against a "hard Brexit", second EU referendum on Brexit deal. Membership of the single market and customs union and protection of freedom of movement.

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