Parliamentarians hear industry concerns at All-Party Parliamentary Gardening & Horticulture Group meeting

All-Party Parliamentary Gardening & Horticulture Group meets at House of Commons to discuss the industry's future.

Lord Taylor said the horticulture industry would be part of the growth agenda - image: HW
Lord Taylor said the horticulture industry would be part of the growth agenda - image: HW

See Photo Gallery of pictures from the event here.

Senior industry figures met this week in the House of Commons to share their hopes and fears for the industry with MPs and peers.

Around 150 people gathered for the meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Gardening & Horticulture Group, where leaders from production horticulture, retail, landscape, contracting, parks and professional gardening had the opportunity to voice concerns over the biggest issues facing the industry.

Issues raised at the reception, which was addressed by new Defra under secretary of state Lord Taylor of Holbeach, included the upcoming England-only peat phase-out, rising input costs, the dire state of parks funding, concerns over the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the need for Government support.

HW editor Kate Lowe highlighted the concerns of commercial growers, facing rising input costs and worsening price pressures. "In such challenging circumstances, we don't need Government policy that will deny our growers a level playing field with competitors in Europe - the England-only ban on growers' use of peat in 2030."

Spending cuts in England and Wales, meanwhile, had led some authorities to propose axing all upkeep regimes for neighbourhood parks. "If such proposals go ahead, they may as well lock up the parks now. Without maintenance they'll become no-go areas."

With no ministerial or civil service champion for green space, she said: "My plea to the all-party group is to help us reforge communication with Government."

Landscape architect Bunny Guinness highlighted concerns over the localism and planning agenda: "I look at the NPPF with great unease."

Guinness said local input was important but she worried our external spaces would end up like some others across Europe where planning could be subjected to the pressures of local interest, which "doesn't often equate" with long-term good.

Scotts Miracle-Gro Company managing director Martin Breddy told the 12th annual reception of the all-party group: "I would like to see policy used to support UK horticulture to ensure we stay competitive with European rivals. We may not be as big as financial services or media sectors, but we can be even more successful at leading recovery in these times."

However, he added: "Such harsh conditions should enable horticulture to play a meaningful role in our economic recovery. Horticulture is one of those industries in which the British excel. Who can rival the reputation of Britain in horticulture?"

Lord Taylor, whose popular appointment to Defra was lauded at the reception, gave an upbeat message: "I'm an optimist - you have to be in horticulture. You need faith in the future because growing things is about having faith in the future."

He said the way to make horticulture enterprises profitable was to align them to science and technology. "There is nothing intrinsically deficient with the horticulture industry and we have a historic tradition of gardening," he told the audience.

Referring to concerns over the NPPF, Lord Taylor said: "If you can't trust local people to look after the amenities they think are important in their community, you can't trust anybody, so I don't take the pessimistic view of the localism agenda. It is a valuable tool for local communities to influence the outcome of planning departments."

The event was introduced and chaired by all-party group chair Baroness Fookes, who said she had sought a meeting with Defra secretary of state Caroline Spelman. Parliamentarians attending included vice-chairs Lord Palmer, Lord Kirkwood and Baroness Royall. MPs present included Roger Williams, group secretary Brian Donohoe, Huw Irranca-Davies and Andrew George.

Research Gap

"One thing I saw (researching the Taylor Report) was that the whole agriculture sector had suffered from near-market research that used to support farming and food production disappearing and there was a huge gap between science in research institutes, which was not translating into a fully up-to-date agriculture sector. This is just the sort of industry that will form part of the growth agenda. We still import huge quantities of horticultural products that could be produced in this country. I've been speaking with David Willets, who holds a science brief, about how to achieve these objectives. There's huge potential in this country to up our game."

Lord Taylor of Holbeach.

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