In our latest specialist market overview, Gardiner & Theobald’s Joe Burns examines the current UK landscaping sector, including current hot topics and typical costs – plus an expert offers his view of the scene …
In recent years landscape design has become an integral part of schemes – rather than a few potted plants dotted around a finished project as an afterthought. This trend should continue as so many organisations are championing the contribution good landscaping can make to developments. For example, CABE has its Make Space initiative that demands better public spaces in towns and cities plus its Urban Design Codes for Building sustainable communities. Significant figures such as the Prince of Wales and London mayor Ken Livingstone have publicly recognised the value of good landscaping for schemes ranging from Poundbury to the Thames Gateway.
Because the landscaping market covers everything from purchasing a packet of seeds to the planting and maintenance of national forests, in this Datafile the focus is on a medium-sized specialist contractor that would typically be employed to create the landscaping on a business park or the hard landscaping of an urban regeneration scheme.
The landscaping market enjoyed a boom a few years ago, as lottery or millennium-related funds gave some impetus to the quality of public projects. Commercial schemes also recognised the benefits to potential occupiers of creating an attractive working environment for employees. However, with the demise of the lottery funds and the downturn in commercial schemes, landscaping contractors have found the market more difficult in recent years with less work and thinner margins. John Todd, managing director of Hasmead Landscapes, reports that “there are few large long-term projects in progress and conditions for most firms are static, with falling tender rates against a backdrop of rising labour costs”.
The much-publicised urban regeneration plans promise a great deal for the landscaping industry, although most of this would be in the form of maintenance-free hard landscaping rather than plants and trees. Currently most landscape architects report that they are very busy preparing the designs for these regeneration schemes, and as the commercial development market reawakens and the Olympic Games developments commence they are likely to enjoy better times once more. Many practices also say clients are becoming more ambitious in their visions for the landscape setting in which their developments are sited. However, further down the chain, landscape contractors remain pessimistic about how much work they will gain from these schemes.
It is likely that in the short term, landscape architects will remain busy but landscape contractors will have to wait until these schemes filter through. Because contractors will be less busy the pressure will be on them to absorb price inflation increases. This has been running at 4% in 2003, 6% in 2004 and we expect the 2005 figure to be 3% where it will remain for the next few years.
The market should pick up for contractors in two or three years’ time as they will start constructing the schemes the architects are currently working on. The contractors will then have the challenge of sourcing adequate quantities of plants, and obtaining and retaining skilled labour.
The nature of landscaping means sustainability is currently top on the agenda. All planning consents are now requiring active plans on how sustainability issues will be addressed including the following issues:
- Strategies for preservation of existing vegetation and wildlife habitats;Lakes acting as stormwater and storage ponds or as a cooling medium for mechanical plant – provided this is carefully implemented;Greywater recycling – this is recovered from rainwater storage and recycled for use as non-potable supplies for flushing toilets;
- Some schemes are even considering the use of natural reed beds for acting as natural sewage treatment arrangements avoiding the need for foul drainage connection.
- Wildlife habitat preservation. The landscape industry leads the pack in this area and is well equipped to monitor what existing wildlife species are likely to be displaced and arranging any necessary capture and relocation.
- The landscaping industry can also benefit from other institutions efforts to be more sustainable. For example, there is much more recycling of waste materials such as waste clay, mud and green material, which can be treated and bought very reasonably as reconstituted topsoil and soil improver – useful if planners insist on big areas of landscaping on brownfield developments where soil has to be brought in.
Landscape specialist Q&A
Hasmead specialises in commercial landscaping work with its subsidiary, Salisbury Landscapes, taking care of smaller commercial jobs and the housebuilding sector.
The group operates nationally with 180 employees in the south of England and a further 120 in Scotland, with a total turnover of £10m. John Todd is Hasmead’s managing director and here offers his insight into the current state of the UK landscaping scene.
What are the current trends in landscape design?
With urban regeneration schemes, there is a trend towards lots of hard areas with bigger trees and less of them. Outside of cities or anywhere near water a lot of the work has to be environmentally sensitive because the planners are insisting on it. There’s more emphasis on mature planting and quality herbaceous and aquatic plants.
Are you busy?
We have two very large contracts including the landscaping at T5 so we are OK. It’s a difficult market at the moment – there’s not much work about so if you don’t have any work you would find it hard to get it.
What about smaller jobs?
Salisbury Landscapes is picking up new housing schemes and small commercial work although it is slower than it was. The private market has dropped off altogether.
Is maintenance a good long-term business to be in?
Maintenance is good bread and butter but now you have got the FM companies coming into the market and taking on both building and landscaping maintenance. It’s very tough as they don’t see the landscaping element as a way of making money, so we see this market declining.
Do you think things will pick up?
I have never seen so many tenders in my life for future work – there’s a lot for 2007 and 2008 plus there’s the Olympics and the Thames Gateway. The next 18 months will be thin but then it will be very busy.
Would this sudden increase in demand cause supply problems?
The biggest threat to our industry is the supply of plants if work suddenly takes off. The growers aren’t growing much speculative stock either here or in Europe so plants have to be grown to contract. The average plant takes at least 18 months or longer to grow. Prices will either go up or there will be massive disappointment.
How much should clients and developers spend on a landscaping scheme? This is difficult to answer, as it is so subjective – good landscaping is not essential in the same way the roof on a building is and it is hard to say how much monetary value good landscaping adds to a scheme. One can be sure that whatever amount is allocated, the planning authorities will want more, the developer or owner will want less, the landscape architect will tell you good design is not expensive and the quantity surveyor will say you cannot afford it. There is also the fact landscaping is not a one-off cost; there are all the costs of renewal and maintenance of planted areas. However there is no doubt that the environment created by well-landscaped areas improves staff morale and that this leads to great efficiency.
As there is no objective correlation between expenditure and landscaping and property values, there can be no definitive assessment. However the following may be useful as a general guide.
Good-quality business or science park
On a 100-acre scheme you might expect to spend £1.5m, or £15,000 per acre, on infrastructure planting and landscaping. For the buildings on that park you might expect to spend 1% of the project value on soft landscape planting and a further 1% on footpaths, paved or terrace areas or external works that exclude dedicated parking areas.
Major retail scheme
On a large retail scheme you might expect to spend 1% to 1.5% on items such as water features and public spaces.
Urban regeneration scheme
On urban regeneration schemes, CABE and other such organisations urge the expenditure of 1% of the cost on special features, works of art or non-construction-related elements.
On a large residential project of several hundred units in multiple blocks you might expect to spend 0.5-1% of the total, up to £16/m2, of the building area on landscaping planting and hard landscaping.
Some interesting ways of controlling costs:Excavating topsoil by hand to, say, 250 mm deep will be 10 times more expensive than using mechanical equipment.
- Excavating tree pits by hand 1 m deep will be three times more expensive than using mechanical equipment.
- Double the girth of the tree and you quadruple the price to buy.
- Weeding and forking areas by hand weekly is 40% of the cost of weeding and forking areas monthly.
- Handheld watering equipment is 15 times more labour-intensive than using sprinkler installations.
Maintenance and renewal costs
Maintenance and renewal costs are difficult to quantify as this depends on the intensity of the installation and the frequency of site visits.
Modern arrangements tend to be performance based rather than prescriptive in terms of the frequency of visits, for example to keep the grass cut to levels not to exceed a certain height rather than specifying 16 or 18 cuts per year.
However typical costs could be:
- Machine cutting turf areas: £500/ha per year
- Leaf clearance etc: £100/ha per visit
- Pruning shrubs or groundcover: £1.50/m2 per visit
- Irrigation systems to landscape planting areas with perforated pipes laid on the surface will cost something in the region of £2/m2 to install. For pipes buried in trenches costs will rise to more than £5/m2.
- Maintenance of planted areas will equate to between 5 and 10% of the capital cost per year.
- Maintenance of a good quality heavily planted landscaped areas to Business Parks or an office campus can easily be £5000/ha per year.
In the planting element of landscaping works the seasons are more relevant than procurement lead-in times with potentially expensive consequences. Bare-rooted plant stock can only be transplanted between November and March when it is dormant.
To plant outside these times means using container-grown plants where the plant and soil are planted together which can cost five times as much.
One approach on a long-running project is to buy bare-rooted plants at the first seasonal opportunity, plant in an on-site (or off-site) nursery and cultivate and grow during the period of the building contract then plant out, including attached soil, to final positions. This approach has several advantages: it procures the cheapest stock and grows it on to a more mature size, plus planting can take place whenever the programme allows. The downside is the plants do require maintenance and protection in the nursery.
More exotic plants used within internal atriums and very mature trees will have extensive lead in periods to source the appropriate material, arrange transport and delivery. Few really large trees are available in the UK and most are sourced from Europe. Fortunately, as planting to landscape areas is usually the last element of a construction project, there should be plenty of time available if this is carefully planned.
Design considerations: The trouble with water features
From the ponds in our back gardens to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain in London, it seems water is always a source of problems. This is because water naturally wants to run downhill by the most convenient route, whereas water features often seek to restrain it or even force it uphill through pipes and fountains. Because of this, no quantity surveyor is ever going to admit that there is such a thing as an effective, efficient and cheap solution. Therefore the following is advisable for installing a simple landscaped lake:
Plastic or butyl rubber liners are a cheap method of water sealing, but have to be protected by sand layers above and below to prevent damage from rocks and hard spots below and inadvertent staking or forking from above. Puddled clay is the most effective waterproofing membrane as it accommodates accidental piercing and, as long as it is wet, reseals any holes. Liners with a protective bed will cost £10-£15/m2.
Most damage occurs at the edges where linings get exposed, torn or damaged and puddle clay dries out in warm spells making it crack and shrink. Carefully protect edges by gabions or use sheet piles with a capping to keep the waterproof seal.
Algae and discolouration
Water features can look unsightly if covered in a green scum. To prevent this, water features need to be adequately deep – ideally 2 m in the centre and with some water movement – use either water recirculation or a fountain. Incorporating fish and selecting the right type of aquatic plants all help. Old-fashioned remedies such as a bale of hay sunk in the water are now frowned upon by the Environmental Agency as are chemical treatments.
Fountains and pumps
To be properly effective, installations need to be treated like a mechanical services installation. Duplicate pumps (preferably sited on land for ease of maintenance) efficient filters, regular maintenance are all essential.
Pontoons and bridges
Specialist companies such as Walcon Marine supply standard products that are tried and tested for these uses. Purpose-built designs will be expensive and untested.
Health and safety
This is a major consideration if the feature is open to the public – as was brought vividly home by people slipping over in the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. Deep water adjacent to footpaths must be avoided. Shallow beaches or stepped level changes must be included at the perimeter of water features – first, to avoid people falling into deep water and second, if they have fallen in to make it easier for them to get out.
The British Association of Landscape Industries trade organisation has more than 100 members both designers and contractors across the UK.
Principal landscape contractors include:
ISS Waterers Landscape
Nursery Court, London Road, Windlesham
Surrey GU20 6LQ
Frosts Landscape Construction
Wain Close, Woburn Sands, Milton Keynes MK17 8UZ
Tel: 01908-583 611
Fax: 01908-585 238
The Plantation, Woburn Hill, Addleston
Surrey KT15 2QC
Mill Lane, Salford, Milton Keynes,
Buckinghamshire MK17 8BY
Scandor Landscape Contractors
Hensting Lane, Fishers Pond, nr Eastleigh
Hampshire SO50 7HH
Tel: 023-8069 2422
Fax: 023-8060 1555
Tilhill (Part of the UPM group that deals with forestry)
Kings Park House, Laurelhill, Stirling
Wildmoor Lane, Bromsgrove,
Worcestershire B61 0RH.
Bridge Nurseries, Four Elms, Edenbridge
Kent TN8 6RN
Tel: 01732-700 646
Fax: 01732-700 366
Maintenance and facilities management contractors include:
Serco House, 16 Bartley Wood Business Park
Bartley Way, Hook, Hampshire RG27 9UY
Other facilities management companies moving into the landscape maintenance market include IFC and Capita.