Preview 2009: Landscaping

Large public projects crucial as housing slump takes its toll

The housing downturn hit landscaping in 2008 but industry figures predict large-capital projects could help the sector in 2009, while sustainability concerns will continue to raise the public profile of landscape architecture and garden design.

Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) chairman Adam Frost said the economic challenges are going to be hard for some members to cope with.

Frost believes the APL will have to play a leading role in assisting landscapers in winning business in a tighter market. "We will be trying to help our members through the next six to 12 months," he said.

"It is about helping people in terms of economic challenges."

Despite the downturn in the new housing market, large-capital projects would help keep the landscaping sector afloat over the next year, said BALI chairman John Gillan.

"Big projects like the Olympics and Thames Gateway are very good for industry, even if means only the larger companies will be working on them," Gillan said. "That will create gaps elsewhere in the market, which will be good for smaller companies."

But he added that the biggest challenge would be in 12 to 18 months' time, as landscaping was invariably one of the last phases to happen.

"We are already getting vibes of projects being shelved, and I don't know when the upturn will come," he added.

Landform Consultants director Mark Gregory remained positive: "Everyone will be looking at how to better their business. It will be tough, but most landscapers are used to tough trading because it is a low-margin industry."

He added: "I believe there are opportunities out there."

Climate change will continue to be of importance in landscaping and garden design in 2009, following on from a year that saw a proliferation of sustainable practices such as green walls and roofs, edible gardens and rainwater harvesting. Landscape Institute president Neil Williamson said further recognition of the role of landscape architects in meeting climate change challenges was needed.

"We will continue to draw attention to the importance of our profession in tackling climate change and, in particular, stress how new developments need to incorporate sustainable landscapes in order to achieve Levels 5 and 6 of the Code for Sustainable Homes," he said.

In addition, the crisis in the landscape and green skills sector must be given sharper focus in 2009, and Williamson said the Landscape Institute's I Want To Be a Landscape Architect campaign would continue to target the next generation. "An extensive marketing campaign designed to secure the future of the profession" would be key for the year ahead, he explained.

CABE Space director Sarah Gaventa agreed that improving skills was critical for the sector, with the organisation's Skills to Grow strategy planned for release in the spring.

"We need to increase awareness of opportunities in the sector," she said.

"Raising the profile and value of the sector and attracting more skilled people is one of the biggest priorities."

London College of Garden Design director and RHS chief assessor Andrew Wilson said some landscape designers were losing work as clients held onto their money for longer.

"Sadly, that's how recessions start," he warned. "I'm very aware of the whole economic situation and I have an eye on how much new work will be coming through in six months' time."

However, the launch of the London College of Garden Design this month had been well met, said Wilson.

"Through recessions, people do actually retrain and come into new careers and we have had a lot of interest in the school," he added.

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