Updated: Borders MSPs calling for green light for garden centres to open again

Borders MSPs Rachael Hamilton and Christine Grahame are urging the Scottish Government to take a leaf out of its UK counterpart’s book by allowing garden centres to reopen.

Wednesday, 13th May 2020, 4:27 pm
Updated Friday, 15th May 2020, 10:34 am
Shoppers at a garden centre in Blackpool in Lancashire reopened today.
Shoppers at a garden centre in Blackpool in Lancashire reopened today.

Garden centres in England were given the thumbs-up to reopen today, May 13, as part of a relaxation of coronavirus lockdown measures announced by UK prime minister Boris Johnson on Sunday, May 10, and the region’s two constituency representatives called for the same to happen here at a meeting of Holyrood’s rural economy and connectivity committee today.

Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Mrs Hamilton told rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing: “Garden centres have faced the perfect storm of seasonality and perishability, and that is having a significant effect on the supply chain.

“Today, garden centres in England are opening and companies such as Dobbies and Klondyke, which have headquarters here in Scotland, cannot open in Scotland even though they can now open in England.

“What are you doing to support the horticultural industry and to ensure that the supply chain and the companies that rely on it do not collapse?

“The Scottish Government knows that the Horticultural Trades Association has protocols and guidelines in place that do not allow cafes in garden centres to operate or the sale of items other than bedding plants.

“How is it that social distancing measures to protect the public and staff can be put in place in large DIY centres and supermarkets where plants are sold?

“There are supermarkets where the cafeteria area has been turned into a bedding plant sale area.

“Is the Scottish Government’s position not completely illogical?”

Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Ms Grahame backed up that plea, saying: “I strongly support what Rachael Hamilton says. I am a keen gardener.

“Many people are finding the lockdown very hard, both psychologically and in relation to their mental and physical wellbeing.

“Gardens are very good for the mental and physical health of those who are lucky enough to have them.

“Having seen how things can operate in England and Wales, by cordoning off those areas that have household goods and gifts and so on, and using directional arrows to show people how to move to get their compost and plants, I hope that the Scottish Government will think again about opening garden centres.

“We are talking not just about garden centres, but also about plant suppliers and the health and wellbeing of many people for whom gardening is their only outlet in lockdown.”

Mr Ewing, MSP for Inverness and Nairn, assured the pair that he too wants to see garden centes open again as soon as it is deemed safe for that to happen, replying: “The public health measures that we have taken require people to stay at home to save lives and avoid pressure being put on the National Health Service. Therefore, as I understand it, up until now, across these islands, garden centres have not been operating as they were, particularly those that have cafes and restaurants. For some garden centres, a cafe or restaurant forms a major part of their business.

“It is a serious topic. There is a lot at stake here. This is the prime season for garden centres. Therefore, I was pleased that we were able to remove any doubt that might hitherto have existed about the fact that garden centres are free to continue trading by offering click and collect or deliveries of plants, flowers, shrubs and so on to their clients, and I know that some businesses have availed themselves of that option.

“I sympathise with Rachael Hamilton and Christine Grahame on those points.

“I appreciate that gardening is a great source of pleasure for many people, particularly during lockdown.

“It would be great to see those people who have gardens getting out there and getting the benefits of the fresh air and physical exercise involved, as well as the sense of wellbeing that comes from that.

“The supply chain is also extremely important.

“Let me be clear – I want garden centres to be opened as soon as it is safe to do so, but the overriding question must be the extent to which we require continuing precautionary measures in order to address the main objective of saving lives and preventing there being overwhelming demand on our NHS acute medical services. Those are very difficult issues.

“I agree with the sentiments expressed. I would like to see garden centres opening as soon as it is safe to do so.

“I must respect the judgement and decisions that are made after we assess the overall medical evidence.

“Christine Grahame made the point about social distancing, which is an important part of all the plans for every sector.

“All sectors under the rural affairs department are preparing plans for recovery in order that they can provide confidence to those members of the public who are still extremely concerned about lifting restrictions of any kind so that, in every case where activity is revived, restored and recovered, it is done in full compliance with Covid-19 best practice.

“We need to be safe.”

Gerry Saddler, Scotland’s chief plant health officer, added: “We are in regular contact with the Horticultural Trades Association.

“We have its protocol, which suggests a way that garden centres could reopen safely. That protocol is currently being vetted by Health Protection Scotland.

“In some respects, all the building blocks to allow garden centres to reopen in Scotland at some stage in the future are in the process of being put together.

“All the preparation work is ongoing, and we will be ready to go as soon as it is safe to open garden centres.

“All the preparation work is now in place.”

Ms Grahame was heartened by that response, adding afterwards: “I welcome news that this is being given serious consideration, and I trust the Scottish Government will authorise reopening soon.”