Private sector work okay, say landscape businesses

Design and construction firms target specialist work as hedge against decline in public sector.

A spike in contract orders for landscape design and construction firms is being contrasted by a deep dip for others, such as firms angling for public-sector jobs.

Gavin Jones director of business development Yvette Etcell said: "In commercial landscape construction and domestic design and build we have loads of orders. It is extraordinary given the tight conditions and we have work for the whole year or more.

"I think that we are helped by having a broad business base, from domestic projects to blue-chip giants and Government departments, so we are not concentrated on a particular area such as local authority work."

Ebsford Environmental in Leeds was also inundated, said managing director Nick Hartley. "We are flat out with £2.3m of quotes on our books for work including wild flower meadows, green roofs and riverbank stabilisation.

"We are particularly strong on £20,000-£30,000 orders. We are happy to service the small people who need fast, agile turnaround from specialists," he added.

"The key to our success - and our overall unique selling point - is that we offer an enhanced, not a full service. We stay firmly within our comfort zone and won't consider overstretching ourselves even in a tough economy."

Harlow Garden Services director Bradley Goodman said: "We are busier than we have been for the past few years. We are not rushed off our feet but things are ticking over for hard and soft domestic landscapes, fencing and decking."

He added: "The mild January may have made a difference. If we were under two feet of snow we wouldn't have any enquiries and couldn't get on site. We have a fair amount of work until spring, which is when we expect it to get busier."

Barton Grange Landscapes managing director Peter Topping said: "We picked up a few contracts in January including hard and soft works at British Aerospace. But we could do with more.

"Commercial work is stronger than domestic although that has picked up recently. The market is not as gloomy as people make out, but maybe this is because in the North West we don't get the highs and lows that happen in the South East."

Design view - Alastair McCapra, chief executive, Landscape Institute

"Landscape architects are finding orders very patchy. But it's not all gloom and doom and practices are still recruiting new staff. Both large and solo practices are doing well in areas including pre-planning work and projects involving green infrastructure, flooding and drainage. Some are also notching up contracts with developers to help them gain planning permission. But practices relying on contracts for public realm work from local authorities or for schools projects have been hit hard."

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