Caroline Spelman backs research case

All-Party Parliamentary Gardening & Horticulture Group wins pledge to pursue ornamentals funds.

Environment secretary Caroline Spelman has told an All-Party Parliamentary Gardening & Horticulture Group delegation that she will build a case for using Technology Strategy Board (TSB) money for ornamentals research and development (R&D).

She was responding to delegation member and HTA business development director Tim Briercliffe's assertion that TSB money is not eligible for R&D in the ornamentals sector and that there was a "real gap there" after the demise of HortLINK.

Briercliffe added that Spelman said she would offer the support of Defra scientists in making a case for funding.

The delegation also sought pressure to be brought to bear on water companies via Defra to bring in phased restrictions. Spelman said a water summit later this month would include a discussion of the effect of bans on consumers and the advantages of phased bans.

RHS director-general Sue Biggs led the discussion on training. She and Briercliffe called on the Government to clarify future plans for funding apprenticeships and training, particularly for small and medium enterprises (SME) and over-24s.

They also asked how the Qualifications & Credit Framework (QCF) would be evolved to meet SME needs. Briercliffe said the QCF featured ideal bite-sized training but funding had been cut. He explained that the HTA was piloting an e-learning scheme, the Grower Project, funded by the Government and the Horticultural Development Company.

On the discussion about pesticides, Briercliffe said Spelman understood the issues and as part of the Government's Red Tape Challenge she is to act on a response from agriculture that Briercliffe said could ease the burden on industry.

Spelman also indicated that the next version of the National Planning Policy Framework will give greater emphasis on biodiversity offsetting and associated green planting in response to Briercliffe's comment that it lacked greening infrastructure elements. This would be brought about by builders replacing lost habitats elsewhere on site.

One outcome of the peat task force's report in June could be that using "some peat is okay and not environmentally damaging and not as bad as alternatives", Briercliffe told Spelman.

He said the task force was not yet looking at removing 2020/30 targets for ending peat use by retailers and growers respectively, but "if (removing the targets) comes out in the recommendations, the Government will have to take that on board".

Defra Meeting - Issues up for discussion

The All-Party Parliamentary Gardening & Horticulture Group meeting with environment secretary Caroline Spelman discussed:

- Research and development.

- Hosepipe bans.

- Apprenticeships and training.

- Red tape and pesticides.

- Urban greening.

- Peat.

Attendees were Baroness Fookes, Lord Palmer, Brian Donohoe MP, Roger Williams MP, Tim Briercliffe of the HTA and Sue Biggs of the RHS.

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