Brexit impact felt across landscape sector

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The effects of Brexit are making themselves felt in landscape and garden design in a variety of ways, but expectations of a huge fall in prices seem overblown so far.
BALI chief executive Wayne Grills has been speaking with members and has found that after some initial post-Brexit caution things are gaining pace again. The market appears to be stabilising as people are realising that it could be as long as one or two years before article 50 is even invoked.

Willerby Landscapes spokesman David Witham said there has not been a noticeable downturn. “We’re systems all go, to be honest. There’s a number of jobs coming up to start and we’re working on tenders for next year.”

Garden designer Dan Bowyer of Fisher Tomlin & Bowyer said the company has plenty of work on but many jobs are major ongoing house renovations. “But with the ones we’re involved with in the design stage now, the pinch point will be when we get to end of housebuilding – the garden budget usually drops a bit but it will be interesting to see if that happens more than usual.”

Bowyer has been surprised to find that on some smaller projects clients who would not normally be willing to spend much are opening their wallets. Their reasoning: they will not be moving any time soon thanks to falling house prices so they may as well improve their current living situation.

But he and Andrew Fisher Tomlin are prepared for the worst. “We know what we do is a complete luxury,” he said. “There’s a lot worse to come. Andrew and I are very much braced for a very difficult couple of years.”

Garden designer Andrew Wilson said uncertainty is definitely a theme. “Investment is slowing and people are saying ‘we won’t outlay at the moment because we’re not sure how things would go if there’s an economic downturn’.” Garden designers are likely to reap the results of that mindset in a year’s time, he added.

“If you’ve got 10 schemes at the moment you may only find out in six months or a year that you’re now down to four-to-five, and so it tends to always follow the main peaks and troughs some time later. That sense of uncertainty is unlikely to help landscape architects or garden designers. In three-to-four years’ time maybe it will have levelled out and will be much more understandable. But in that time you could lose practices, small companies, because they simply can’t keep afloat.”

Landscape architect Robert Myers also saw commercial clients holding back immediately after Brexit and said not much has changed. “I think residential and other developers are still sitting tight at the moment, waiting to see what happens after the summer holidays when things normally start moving again in the market.”

Landscape designer Janine Pattison said commercial work in particular has “definitely been quieter. July and August are always quiet anyway, but our clients are saying a lot of projects have been shelved or mothballed on the construction side of things, which filters down to landscape. People are stopping and taking stock, and saying ‘what does this mean?’ But our feeling is that it’s very much a temporary pause. We’re expecting September to really kick back into it big time when everyone’s back from holidays. The world hasn’t ended. There’s a lot of money in the economy, a lot of underlying strength and confidence.”

Things are still looking good on the private side, she added. “People are benefiting from lower interest rates and mortgages are cheaper, loans are cheaper and leaving money in the bank doesn’t make sense any more because it’s not doing anything. The main issue for us is the exchange rate. We bring stuff in from Europe and straight away we’ve had a 15-18 per cent increase in price. We don’t do any planting in July and August anyway, but we are definitely looking at British stock as opposed to European.”

Steve McCurdy of Majestic Trees has not had any reports of those who normally buy on the continent turning to the UK. “There was definitely a lack of confidence in July, but sales are extremely good in August – more than normal – and that may be from a pent-up July. I think people were worried and put off the work, and the weather was hit and miss. There was a lot of doom and gloom. It’s the British way.”

Article by Elizabeth Henry,