Daily Express

Lifeline for garden centres as hopes rise of reopening

- By John Ingham Environmen­t Editor

GARDEN centre chiefs yesterday welcomed hopes that they can reopen as a “lifeline” for the £24billion horticultu­re industry.

They said reopening would help boost the nation’s health by letting people stay at home and work in th egarden. Garden centres already have protocols in place to maintain social distancing.

Most are in a better position than supermarke­ts to reduce the risk of infections because they are large and have areas in the open air.

But the industry warned of supply shortages because when the lockdown was imposed, growers composted many bedding plants and cut back on new planting.

The shutdown came at the peak of the industry’s season, with 70 per cent of sales usually between March and May.

The Horticultu­ral Trades Associatio­n (HTA) last month warned that one in 10 businesses faces going bust by the end of June and one in three by the end of the year without state interventi­on.

Yet, as revealed by the Daily Express, many countries have allowed garden centres to continue operating with social distancing.

Even virus-stricken Italy reopened its centres last month.

The HTA is still seeking a Dutchstyle compensati­on for growers.

But last night James Barnes, the chairman of the HTA, said: “We are very pleased that garden centres may be allowed to reopen.This is excellent news. It is a lifeline for this sector. For us every day in May is a big day. But we are still going to be talking to Defra because of the hit the nurseries took earlier in the season. This will continue to cause supply chain issues for the rest of the year.”

Iain Wylie, the chief executive of the Garden Centre Associatio­n, said: “This is certainly hopeful news. Our members have been getting suitable protocols in place to make sure we have social distancing in the centres.

“We understand the reasons for the lockdown and we appreciate heopfully being in the first wave to come back.

“Our season runs from March to June. Hopefully reopening gives a chance for garden centres and growers to claw something back, having been in a perilous state earlier in the season.

“We’re not out of the woods yet. Hopefully the nation will keep gardening which has to be good for physical and mental wellbeing.

“But there may be shortages of some plants because growers have had to compost a lot of stock and were cautious about planting further crops.”

The boss of the second largest wholesale supplier of plants and flowers, Newey, described possible reopening as “life-saving”.

But owner Alex Newey added the Government has not done enough to back an industry supporting 568,700 jobs and contributi­ng £5.4billion in tax.

He said: “Garden centres are better able than most to provide social distancing measures and should have been allowed to open much earlier.”

Mr Newey, whose firm has a £40million turnover with nurseries in West Sussex, Kent and Warwickshi­re, added: “At the very least the Government should have provided a scrappage scheme such as the one provided to the Dutch horticultu­ral industry.”

A senior source in the UK Government said: “Garden centres typically open large open-air spaces where the risk of transmissi­on of coronaviru­s is lower.”

But guidance issued by the Government to garden centre bosses said they would not be able to reopen cafes or playground­s.

The centres will need to introduce more thorough and frequent cleaning regimes, as well as perspex glass for check-out staff, similar to measures in place at supermarke­ts.

There will also be queuing systems at the centres to ensure social distancing.

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