At the end of a year which has seen hosepipe bans in one of the wettest summers on record, an increase in VAT, the proposed relaxation of planning laws affecting the ‘green belt’ and building extensions in domestic back gardens, plus government spending cuts putting our parks and gardens under greater threat than ever before it’s time to ask members of the industry what new legislation they would introduce, existing legislation they would amend and proposed legislation they would push through. Carol Dutton reports.
Sue Illman, President of The Landscape Institute would like to see the full and immediate implementation of the Floods and Water Management Act but heavily revised with a long list of additions.
“The principles of Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) and not just SuDS need to be the key aspect of the Act, to ensure that not only do we deal with surface water flooding and water pollution problems, but we also address issues of water supply,” she says. “The Act also needs to enshrine the concept of the use of soft planted SuDS as an essential part of every scheme, to improve biodiversity, amenity and all the consequential improvements to health, urban heat island effect and air pollution.” Sue would also like to see every SuDS Approving Body (SAB) with professional landscape input when considering and approving schemes to ensure
they maximize holistic benefits rather than solely engineering. “The Act also needs to include retrofitting of SuDS and an appropriate funding mechanism to require and stimulate uptake,” she continues “as just dealing with every new development will not solve our current problems with flooding.” In Sue’s opinion law makers need to consider what powers would need to be in place to enable retro-fitted SuDS to be rolled out comprehensively and the Act should include obligations on the water companies to set out their long term strategies for delivering retrofitting comprehensively across their regions. “The Act needs to appreciate and provide for the need for long term management of all water infrastructure, whether hard grey infrastructure or soft green infrastructure, as both need to be maintained if they are to fulfill our needs,” she concludes.
While Sue is concerned for the environment and the impact of legislation on the health and well being of the population as a whole (witness the Institute’s swift, no nonsense response to the recent proposed relaxation of planning regulations concerning the ‘green belt’), BALI, is looking at the direct affect that hosepipe bans (for example) have on their members. Chief Executive, Wayne Grills (right) says that the association re-joined the All Parliamentary Party for Gardening and Horticulture Group (APPGHG) which includes the Landscape Institute, APL, HTA and the RHS last year so that they could put pressure on the government. “If there’s another, temporary hosepipe ban in the future we want landscapers to be exempt” he explains. “We’ve got our annual, APPGHG meeting next week at the House of Commons where we’ll be meeting with the minister.”
BALI will also be recruiting a Technical Officer/ Regulation Registrator to guide members through the maze of health and safety regulations, act as a liaison when dealing with DEFRA and help them lobby their MPs.
Such an individual could be of use to Greg Meo ( left ) owner of Meo Landscapes, a family business which has been established on the Norfolk/Suffolk border for ten years. “We do a mixture of domestic and commercial landscaping with clients in both sectors,” he explains. Greg’s main bugbear is confusion over vehicle insurance.
“We insured our vehicles with a National company for years,” he continues “but at the end of last year we changed our insurance company and were told that we needed commercial vehicle insurance in case we drove our mini digger over a footpath, for instance or across someone’s drive. As you can never say that you’re NOT going to do that we’re having to pay up.” The company’s insurance premium for their mini digger has doubled and they still have to pay Public Liability insurance on top. “The trouble is it’s such a grey area. At the moment it’s an absolute mess and we need legislation that will clarify the situation and let us know exactly what we have to pay out for. I’m not sure that the cover I’m buying is necessary and it could be just another way for the insurance companies to make more money.”
While Greg pinpoints confusion in existing legislation, Steve Moody, owner of Frogheath Landscapes, who has been running a successful design and build company in East Sussex for almost 20 years, questions the wisdom of closing down government schemes which, to all intents and purposes were working well. “A fortune was spent on our local skills centre, and it was well subscribed,” he says. “Now for some reason they’ve closed it down, which must have cost almost as much as setting it up in the first place. One of our lads was on a course there. He’s enterprising and has found a similar course 25 to 30 miles away. That’s OK but we’re not too happy about him driving all that way on his motorbike, especially during the winter.”
Concern for staff is echoed by Keith Burgess, head of Oakleaf and Support Services at Oakleaf Grounds Services (part of Wyre Forest Community Housing Group Ltd.) based in Kidderminster, Worcestershire. With 70 to 75 employees under his wing he questions the necessity and wisdom for blanket Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks on all his staff. “Although I agree that they are vitally important to protect our children and vulnerable members of society and necessary for anyone – teachers, care workers, doctors for example, dealing directly with the general public and in positions of authority, I wonder if it’s necessary for people who are cutting grass once a week on a site. I suppose the extreme example was two years ago when two old ladies who had been arranging flowers in their local church for years were required to undergo CRB checks. I also wonder if in this time of high unemployment if a silly mistake by a juvenile, a minor shoplifting offence for example, will work against some one who has grown up and has all the potential to embark on a successful landscaping career.” Keith thinks that this particular piece of legislation is currently under review and would welcome a relaxation of current ubiquitous demands.
The Government Construction Strategy launched in July 2011 and updated in the same month this year has had a direct effect on our larger, substantial turnover companies working exclusively in the commercial sector. A key section of the policy, designed to ensure prompt payment from the top to the bottom of the supply chain has stalled in practice leaving multi, award winning companies like Blakedown Landscapes Operations squeezed in the middle. “Our clients, the main contractors who work for local authorities and universities are being paid promptly with government funds but they are forever extending the payment period to us,” explains Jonathan Salem, joint MD for Blakedown Landscapes Operations. “We’re paying our supply chain more promptly than we’re being paid ourselves. Despite this government’s wishes we still find average payment terms being agreed by the big main contractors – an average of 45 to 60 days. I wish the government would engage properly with the Main Contractor Group (trade body for the larger building contractors) to ensure they improve their supply chain payments. This would help the whole industry.”
Back on the domestic front, feedback from A.P.L. members the majority of whom work in this sector, suggests they are keen to introduce new legislation designed to eliminate competition from those who are un-qualified and/or not VAT registered. Donna Hanlon, the HTA’s Business Development Manager says they propose a 10% flat rate of VAT with a zero threshold. “This would put sole traders and growing and larger businesses on a level playing field and it would remove one of the biggest psychological hurdles growing businesses face because they would be charging VAT from the beginning,” she maintains. “Customers wouldn’t actively seek out non-VAT registered tradesmen and at 10%, avoidance would probably be very small.” Anxious to drive out the “cowboys”, members would also like greater emphasis/requirement placed on ensuring that only traders who have passed a quality based assessment can trade. This view is backed by Claudia de Yong of Claudia de Yong Garden Design who is an APL committee member. “As a landscaper/designer I am always keen to encourage the government to recognize the contribution that accredited traders have to make to the economy; and any legislation that helps differentiate the professional domestic landscaper in the market place is only to the advantage of the consumer,” she says. “It will help them make the right choices.”
So there you have it. Apart from VAT and a reluctance to stamp out un-qualified “cowboys,” thinking behind much legislation seems to be on the right track. The fact that in some cases (the Water Sensitive Urban Design Act), it doesn’t go far enough, in others ( CRB checks) it goes too far, in others ( vehicle insurance law) it confuses the issue, lack of enforcement with all participating parties (key sections of the Government Construction Strategy) defeats the object and failure to recognize that certain schemes (Local Skills Centers) might just be successful and worth keeping means that our industry has to keep talking to Westminster, lobbying their MPs and fighting to be heard. After all, how many government lawmakers have ever worked in landscaping?
If you have any ideas for new legislation or legislation you would like scrapped or amended please email david.curtis @metropolis.co.uk