Wanted Still - Fair deal on hosepipe bans

Anyone who has followed closely the twists and turns of negotiations with Defra and the water industry over the imposition of hosepipe bans in recent years could be forgiven for despairing that a deal that recognises the critical need for a more mediated approach will ever be struck.

And that's not for want of very considerable efforts by the industry. Most recently these have included the tabling of an amendment to the Water Management Bill earlier this year designed to meet industry concerns with the rules governing hosepipe bans that have received inadequate attention in the legislation due to come into force in October.

The bill deals with the issue of water restrictions by extending the definition of "non-essential" uses of water and enhancing the discretionary basis of the bans that can be applied to them - handing over a significant amount of power to water companies which, at a stroke, will hold the livelihoods of garden-industry businesses in their hands.

The industry-agreed amendment that addressed this issue, as well as the bill's failure to include an industry-agreed code of practice, was subsequently pulled by the then Defra minister with responsibility for water, Huw Irranca-Davies, under pressure from colleagues eager not to slow the progress of a key piece of legislation.

This failure to prioritise the industry's concerns with the hose-pipe regulations played straight into the hands of a water industry determined not to be tied to any restrictions - despite ministerial requests for it to work with horticulture in the development of a mutually acceptable response to drought conditions.

The drought of 2006 cost British garden centres in affected areas between 10 and 30 per cent of their trade. The cost to some growers was worse - one lost eight members of staff because three-quarters of his customer base stopped buying plants.

The HTA, HW hears, has now secured a meeting with the new Defra ministerial incumbent with responsibility for water, Richard Benyon, which is encouraging. We can only hope that this time the industry will receive a more committed response from the politicians charged with its governance.

- Kate Lowe, editor. Email: kate.lowe@haymarket.com

- www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk/leader for recent leaders

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