Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA)

The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) represents the majority of the UK’s ornamental horticulture and gardening industry, including a wide range of growers, retailers, landscapers, manufacturers and service providers. The industry has an annual turnover of £9 billion and provides 284,000 jobs in about 30,000 businesses across the UK.

The HTA welcomes Defra’s ambitious White Paper on the Natural Environment and submits the following response to the call for evidence for the EFRA Committee inquiry.

Q: What actions are required across Government Departments, from local government and by civil society to deliver the White paper’s proposals to grow a green economy and reconnect people with nature?

A: The White Paper states that it will put natural capital at the centre of economic thinking in growing a green economy. It also highlights the positive social, environmental and economic benefits that natural environments provide. For years, the HTA has promoted the benefits of green infrastructure through its Greening the UK campaign. Plants and trees are proven to:

Absorb carbon.

Prevent flooding.

Reduce energy loads on buildings.

Diminish the effects of visual and sound pollution.

Reduce stress and illness levels, thereby improving productivity.

Improve hospital recovery rates.

Reduce crime and anti-social behaviour.

Add value to property developments.

In short, horticulture makes an enormous contribution to the UK’s environmental, economic and social well-being but until recently it has been difficult to accurately value the true monetary value of these benefits. However, Greening the UK has identified the Green Infrastructure Valuation Toolkit (the development of which was co-financed by DCLG) which captures the real value of green landscaping across eleven criteria (ranging from climate change to health benefits). The HTA believes this tool should be adopted nationally to help local authorities make a comprehensive and comparative study of all development plans prior to approval. This would help grow a green economy and reconnect communities with nature.

Q: Will the institutional framework outlined for delivering the proposals (in particular Nature Improvement Areas and Local Nature Partnerships) be effective? Does the proposed Natural Capital Committee have sufficient powers?

A: The National Planning Policy Framework will be fundamental to making this infrastructure a success. DCLG have publicly supported the Greening the UK campaign and emphasised the importance of proper planning of delivery of green spaces in the urban environment. We had hoped that the role of green infrastructure would be enshrined in the NPPF, and we are disappointed that it appears to have been omitted from the current draft. National guiding principles are necessary. Whilst most local authorities, communities and civic groups might have a general understanding of the aesthetic appeal of green infrastructure, many will be unaware of its wider economic, environmental and social contribution. There is also evidence that the level of planting and green landscaping in new urban developments has almost halved over the last decade. It appears that some local authorities lack the skills and resources to ensure the delivery of approved landscape plans. The Natural Environment White Paper and the NPPF should not miss this opportunity to reverse that trend.

Q: What further research and/or evidence is required to develop practical programmes sufficiently detailed to deliver the White Paper’s ambition to fully embed the value of nature into policy delivery?

A: Significant research is required into the availability and quality of alternatives to peat if the White Paper is to achieve its ambition in this area. Both the amateur gardener and professional grower need to be convinced of the technical and commercial viability of peat alternatives for this to happen. The Task Force will be helpful in identifying the real challenges, but Defra should stand ready to provide any research funds necessary to help the UK industry overcome these hurdles without damaging its commercial viability within the EU Single Market.

More broadly on research and development, science is absolutely essential for the UK horticultural industry to continue to deliver environmental benefits. In global competitive markets, innovation is vital for the industry to improve productivity and efficiency, and to keep ahead of plant health and environment issues. Defra’s exit from all direct funding of research into ornamental horticulture has left the production industry with an uncertain future. The only remaining source of funding is the small amount of funds from the levy boards, which are further inhibited by the prohibition of match funding. Funding still goes into blue-sky research through the Research Councils, but the research pipeline that brings research through into industry application is broken. The HTA calls on the EFRA committee to explore this problem as a matter of urgency.

What evidence is there from other countries that the approaches proposed in the White Paper can be successfully applied in practice?

One needs to look no further than Scotland to realise that the greening ambitions in the White Paper can be successfully embedded in policy. The Scottish Government has five key goals: a wealthier, healthier, safer, smarter and greener Scotland. These principles underpin Scotland’s second National Planning Policy Framework which places great emphasis on greening urban areas. Greenspace Scotland recently launched the world’s first Greenspace Map which provides comprehensive and detailed information on the location, extent and type of greenspace across all of Scotland’s urban settlements (ie settlements with a population of 3,000 or more). The Map categorises greenspace into 23 different open space types (based on the typology set out in Planning Advice Note 65 Planning and Open Space); these include public parks, play areas, allotments, amenity greenspace and private gardens.

Stewart Stevenson MSP, Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, commented at the launch:

“It is vital that Scotland remains at the forefront of innovation on environmental planning and policy if we are to remain an attractive and environmentally progressive place to live and work. Scotland’s Greenspace Map provides a powerful resource that can now be used at a regional and national level to support the strategic management, planning and investment for greenspace. It aids spatial planning for improved health and regeneration, and is already being used to support development of the Central Scotland Green Network. At a time when finances are tight, this map will provide significant savings through data sharing and the wide access to it.”

This is indicative of the SG’s approach to green infrastructure. The HTA would like to see similar explicit support for greening in Defra and DCLG policies.

We would happily provide oral evidence to the Committee on any of these areas.

26 September 2011

Prepared 16th July 2012