In his letter, Nick Gibb has asked the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to consider when it will be possible to reopen garden centres – which he said are ‘very capable of introducing social distancing, given the spacious premises of most garden centres’.
It comes after the MP spoke with John Hall of the West Sussex Growers’ Association, together with Martin Emmett, a Director of Tristram Plants and Richard Hopkins, CEO of Fargro.
Mr Hall has previously spoken out about the ‘extreme challenges’ currently facing the horticultural industry in West Sussex – read more here.
Mr Gibb said: ”Due to the COVID19 lockdown measures, garden centres and nurseries up and down the country have closed and are therefore no longer purchasing ornamental plants from their suppliers.
”Between 20% and 30% of the UK’s garden and house plants sold at garden centres throughout the country are grown in West Sussex and particularly in the area in and around Bognor Regis and Littlehampton.
“This is made up of larger operations such as Newey Group, Hill Brothers and Farplants as well as up to 30 smaller family-run businesses.
“70% of the turnover of these companies occurs between March and June each year.
”Although local nurseries have been able to supply local residents with plants via online sales, this is a very small proportion of their overall sales and production.”
”Financially, therefore, these important local businesses are in a very difficult position, particularly given the perishable nature of their products.
”I have therefore written to George Eustice, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, highlighting the particular problems caused to the ornamental plants sector and the impact that the closure of garden centres is having on important local businesses in this part of West Sussex.
”It is important that everyone’s focus is on tackling the Covid virus which must remain the government’s key objective.
“And the support for business through the £330 billion of support and loan guarantees is hugely welcome and important.
“But my letter to George Eustice asks him to consider when it will be possible to reopen garden centres, which are very capable of introducing social distancing, given the spacious premises of most garden centres.
“Horticulture is a hugely important part of our local economy, with garden plants particularly so.
“Most of us take pride in the scale and quality of the produce grown on our local farmland and in the hundreds of acres of glass houses.
“It’s what makes our area special.
“I am determined, therefore, to do all I can to help this sector get through these challenging times and to ensure our area remains a dominant player in horticulture in the future.”
Many businesses in West Sussex are finding innovative ways to respond to the pressures they are facing, such as by carrying out doorstep deliveries.
See a full directory of local nurseries and garden centres delivering plants to people’s doors here.
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