A thriving horticulture industry can usher in the green growth the country needs. It's time for government to help us deliver.
Never has the love-affair between Britons and their parks and gardens been more apparent than during the last year of lockdowns. Throughout the COVID pandemic, gardens, parks and other green public spaces have offered a critical lifeline for individuals and families, providing places to exercise, socialise, and relax.
Three million more people took up the hobby, taking the total of UK gardeners to a whopping 30 million. Millions more enjoyed green spaces across the country.
Now, as the government commits to ‘build back better’, a new report from an alliance of Britain’s leading horticultural and landscaping groups, is calling for a series of policy changes to support our world-leading horticultural and landscaping industries. This will help deliver a projected £13bn boost to the UK economy by 2030, supporting an extra 39,000 new, green jobs – taking the UK ornamental horticulture sector to almost £42bn in GDP and over 760,000 jobs.
If delivered, they argue, the sector can help the nation ‘grow back better’, benefiting individuals and local communities, the wider economy, and the environment.
The Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group (OHRG), which commissioned the report, ‘Growing a Green Economy: The importance of ornamental horticulture and landscaping to the UK’, from Oxford Economics and Foresight Factory, pulls together the Horticultural Trades Association, the Royal Horticultural Society, the Arboricultural Association, the National Farmers Union and the British Association of Landscape Industries.
These organisations have banded together to set out plans that build on the rich heritage of UK horticulture to create a vibrant, forward-looking sector that is focused on delivering against the very modern challenges that the nation faces.
“The UK is a nation of dedicated gardeners,” James Clark, Director of Policy and Communications at the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA), told The House. “But what this report shows is that the horticultural sector also makes a massive contribution to the economy, and to delivering on wider environmental benefits.”
The industry stands ready and willing to deliver, but to unlock the full potential of the horticultural and landscaping sector, government needs to take action. The OHRG have produced a policy solutions programme, ‘Unlocking green growth’, which they say will create the framework within which the industry can deliver more for the nation.
Central to this, say industry leaders, are three key policy solutions:
Ensuring that UK producers are better supported to help increase British grown plants – changes to the planning regulations for commercial plant and tree growers are needed to enable expansion, as well as allowing these businesses to access the business improvement funds that are currently only open to farmers.
The post-Brexit trading environment offers a huge opportunity, but a more proportionate regulatory regime on plant, trees and seed imports and exports is needed for our world-class horticultural firms. With extra regulations and restrictions adding a £25m-£30m burden to British horticultural businesses, importing a petunia now needing 59 steps, when it was previously 19, means there’s work to be done on agreeing a level of recognition with the EU.
Expanding the reputation of the industry as an exciting and ‘green jobs’ sector, collaborating with government on the skills agenda, along with ornamental horticulture being included in the Seasonal Worker Pilot – not least to help the industry deliver the government’s ambitious tree planting targets - will provide the focus the industry has long called for.
But the potential benefits of the ornamental horticulture sector go much further than the purely economic. The report paints a vision for a truly 21st century sector that builds on our heritage and history, but which also adapts to meet contemporary challenges. For instance, it describes the very real contribution that the UK’s gardens and green spaces can make in reducing energy use, tackling flooding, and helping to mitigate the impact of climate change on our towns and cities.
Conservative MP Robert Goodwill, who is a member of both the Gardening and Horticulture APPG and the Commons Environmental Audit Committee is in no doubt that when it comes to driving environmental improvements, the nation’s gardeners have a key role to play.
“There is tremendous potential for individuals to do what they can to improve biodiversity and to create habitats,” he tells The House. “If we are going to be greening the economy, this is about every single individual with a garden or with access to land as part of a parish council or a town council having the opportunity to not only make the country look ever more beautiful and productive but to make that contribution to reducing our carbon footprint”.
It is time for the government to recognise the unique social, economic, and environmental contribution that we make
James Clark agrees. “Climate change is the greatest challenge of our generation,” he tells us. “What this report demonstrates is that with the right support the nation’s gardens and parks can play a critical role in helping us to meet the ambitious climate targets that government has set.”
Cherilyn Mackrory MP, a member of the influential Environmental Audit Committee, believes that measures that can deliver a Brexit premium for the industry are, “achievable and within reach”. She tells The House that the time is right to take action to support the horticulture sector.
“Horticulture plays a key role in addressing climate change and meeting environmental targets,” she says, “but in order to take maximum advantage of this the Government needs to support it fully. Now we have been through Brexit, we are in a key position to act decisively to take the action we need to put our horticulture at the pinnacle of British innovation on a global scale.”
However, whilst setting out the clear benefits the sector can bring to the UK, the report also carries a stark warning for policymakers on the economic and social cost of a failure to take action.
The lower projections in the report forecast that, without support to help unlock green growth, the potential £13 billion horticultural boost could be slashed by almost three-quarters. This would cost the UK economy a staggering £9.6 billion between now and 2030, and set back plans to tackle climate change. A reduction in the quality of green spaces would also impact on issues such as obesity and mental health, again creating a substantial additional cost to the public purse.
“Ornamental horticulture is a critical national asset,” says Clark, “but it does not always get the recognition and support that it needs. It is time for the government to recognise the unique social, economic, and environmental contribution that we make, and to work with us to create a sector that will help Britain grow back better.”
First published in The House