HTA urges Welsh government to review ‘non-essential retail’ ruling

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DIDCOT, UK: HTA, the trade body representing UK garden centres has written to Ken Skates, the Welsh Government’s Economy Minister expressing its great disappointment at the decision to classify them as ‘non-essential retail’, requiring them to close from Friday 23 October.

James Barnes, Chairman of the Horticultural Trades Association, has requested a meeting to review the definition of ‘non-essential’  in order to safeguard garden centres’ ability to trade in future – as the Government’s own scientific advisors have suggested a different interpretation of what businesses needed to close. He’s also asked for urgent clarification on the operation of farm shops/food halls in garden centres and click and collect services.

“Back in May, Wales was the first UK administration to take the decision to reopen garden centres and we expected this to be a sign of support for the industry. With no evidence to show why garden centres should be closed, we were crushed to see them included yet again as ‘non-essential retail’ for this Friday’s lockdown. We are asking for the current list of ‘essential’ v ‘non-essential’ retail list to be urgently reviewed,” he said.

With the Welsh government’s own scientific (TAC) group advising late May as the definition of ‘non-essential’ and other places in the UK establishing June 2020 reopening as the definition, the HTA argues this is a pragmatic approach to reducing social interaction, while minimising negative economic impact.

The letter calls for such a review to recognise the ease with which garden centres can provide safe and secure retail environments, with their naturally large, open and airy infrastructures providing a perfect starting point for socially distanced trading; the important role gardening plays in promoting health and wellbeing and offering a safe and positive activity to do while at home and the damage closure will do to a sector still recovering from lockdown.

Many Welsh garden centres, particularly in rural areas, provide essential food items such as fresh produce, bread and milk and the HTA says such stores should be able to continue trading as a community store, as a small supermarket would. Garden centre ‘Click and collect’ services were run during the previous lockdown and the HTA has urged the Welsh Government to accept this approach now saying it is a safe way to ensure people can continue to garden during lockdown and to help reduce the significant loss of sales garden centres will face.

Emergency funding based on rateable value will not help many garden centres, says the HTA, because the necessarily large size of their premises pushes them above the values stated for qualification despite the fact they are classed as small or medium in most other categories.

“I’m concerned that many small and medium garden centres won’t have access to funding to cover losses incurred,” said James Barnes.

“Even for those businesses that can access funding it is likely to be well below the costs that will be concurred by the two-week lockdown. Small and medium-sized members have told us they estimate they will lose between £160,000-£170,000 over the two weeks – impacting their ability to recover and grow, potentially threatening jobs.”

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