All-party group covers key topics at high-level meeting

The All-Party Parliamentary Horticulture Group (APPHG), represented by the HTA's David Gwyther, BALI's Sandra Loton-Jones, Royal Parks' Mark Camley and MPs Brian Donohoe and Brian Jenkins, met Defra secretary of state Hilary Benn last week.

The research and development crisis was high on the agenda. Gwyther said the industry faces severely reduced R&D funding and the continued erosion of resources.

This was evidenced this week by confirmation of the proposal from the University of Warwick to change the function of the Wellesbourne horticultural R&D centre.

Gwyther explained that just £1.2m of levy funds were available annually to researchers and that levy boards were still forbidden by state aid rules from accessing funds from other sources.

He suggested that the sector needed a new approach and structure that could address these issues. He added: "The industry is faced with the last of the Defra funding being cut. This would leave ornamentals with nothing but levy funding, which it pays itself anyway, and means we would not be able to sustain existing facilities."

Gwyther also raised peat replacement targets and concerns over the continuing absence of an agreed code or practice on domestic water usage controls.

Loton-Jones briefed Benn on training issues including skills cards and also brought up rogue traders.

Camley raised pests and diseases affecting trees in the UK and the opportunity the Olympics represent to showcase UK horticulture.

- Next Monday, the APPHG is due to hold its 10th annual reception at the Houses of Commons, where the secretary of state will address industry guests and parliamentarians.

Celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh will be speaking at the event, which will also hear from all-party group officers Ann Cryer MP and Donohoe as well as HW editor Kate Lowe and Scotts' Martin Breddy.

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