Horticulture work associated with the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail link has the potential to be bigger than the Olympic Games, but the Government must learn from London 2012 if it wants HS2 to surpass the Olympics' environmental achievements, say industry figures.
After Olympic schemes were hailed at last week's BALI National Landscape Awards, landscapers and growers are focusing on the next giant public project, the £43bn HS2 rail link between London, the Midlands, Leeds and Manchester.
Project sponsor for parklands and public realm at the London Legacy Development Corporation Phil Askew, who saw Willerby Landscapes take BALI's Grand Award for its Olympic South Park Plaza legacy work, said HS2's green element is vital to its success. "There are lessons to be learnt for HS2 from the Olympics surrounding procurement and planting."
HS2 chairman David Higgins is former Olympic Delivery Authority chief executive. Peter Miller is environment director. There are two years to go until work starts on HS2 and planting could begin straight away in a lot of locations for it to mature in time for the opening of phase one in 2026, said an HS2 representative. He added that 15 years of horticulture work is planned. It will be "absolutely massive - far larger than the Olympics in scale".
The representative said the levels of environmental protection will be higher than for any other project of such a significant scale, including a commitment to plant more than two million trees along the route of phase one.
Palmstead marketing manager Nick Coslett, who supplied plants for HS1 and the Olympic site, said HS2 could have an important and major effect on the UK's horticulture industry.
While the HS1 Channel Tunnel Rail Link route went through a single habitat in the Kent wealds, HS2 "is going through a variety of different soils, geologies and ecological habitats". He added: "If they're going to follow the principle of replacing the local flora and fauna with local replacements then there is a very complicated procedure of growing plants to fill the different habitats they're going to go through."
Coslett said procurement for HS1 and the Olympics was "exemplary", adding: "No wonder larger landscapers have done well with it."
Other South East schemes such as Ebbsfleet garden city will also bring work, as will landscaping round the Shard in London and work at the £150m Garden Bridge over the Thames. Landscaping such as Frosts' £3m contract at Thomas More Square and work by Willerby Landscapes, where Olympic head gardener Des Smith is moving, in Kings Cross are fairly common now in the south. But growers and landscapers say the rest of Britain is still suffering and HS2 might come too late to help them.
Former Crowders managing director Simon Ellis, who is now soft landscape director at BALI award-winning firm NT Killingley in Derbyshire, said: "There are definite signs of recovery in northern England but nowhere near like London and the South East, where everyone is busy."
He warned: "HS2 is going to be too late. The bulk of the landscaping won't happen for two-to-three years. It will help, but it won't help with present problems."
Ellis said last week's Government autumn statement announcing £15bn to be spent on roads and £2.3bn on flood defences is good for landscapers and amenity growers but the money is "a few years away with nothing on the immediate horizon on a big scale".
The 2012 Olympics and its legacy took a lot of nursery stock and helped the rest of the industry but there has been "nothing significant since", he added.
HS2 lead spokesperson Ben Ruse said: "HS2 is being designed to blend into the surrounding landscape as much as possible and our priority will be to provide sensitive, locally appropriate planting and landscaping all along the route.
"New planting will be used to help provide visual screening as well as replace woodland and other habitats lost during construction. In fact, we plan to plant more than two million new trees between London and Birmingham alone, leaving the area with more trees than it had before HS2."
Number of trees to be planted along HS2 phase one route - London to Birmingham, 2017-26 - 2,000,000