Policy Round-up: May 2020
May saw the first stage in the relaxation of lockdown restrictions, and has allowed our member gardens in England to take the first tentative steps toward recovery and reopening. Whilst the first stage of ‘unlocking’ allowed garden centres to reopen, unlimited outdoor time and picnicking in England, it initially left privately owned gardens and parks usually open to the public in a grey area. After a fortnight of intense lobbying and daily conversations with DCMS and DEFRA, on 22 May we received the welcome news that private ticketed gardens were permitted to reopen to the public.
Nearly 40 of our members in England have now been able to open to garden visitors, and we have been contributing to sector-wide conversations about visitor and staff safety to keep our members up to date on the latest advice and protocols for reopening. We have produced our own VisitSafe guidance for member sites to consult, and we expect VisitBritain’s official Kitemarking scheme to be produced within the month. In the meantime, the world of webinars has meant we’ve also been able to share with our members’ strategies for adaptation and survival from fellow tourism businesses from Hong Kong to Holland.
However, sadly it remains that case that most of our member places remain closed for business. The wedding industry has been particularly badly hit, and it’s unclear when this £10 billion industry will be allowed to resume. We are constantly raising this issue in ministerial calls to highlight the lack of support that weddings businesses have received so far, and we’re working closely with the Association of British Wedding Businesses (ABWB) to put more pressure on Government for action in this crucial area.
Elsewhere our planning reform work has been given a boost by MHCLG’s interest in implementing temporary measures to allow listed buildings to adapt to social distancing regulations more quickly and easily. We are working with sector colleagues and Historic England to produce a package of proposals which we hope will help historic sites to efficiently modify their facilities and access routes for visitor safety. We hope that some of these proposals are proven to offer longer-term solutions, and will go some way towards streamlining and simplifying the planning system.
For now, alongside getting weddings restarted, our key priority remains pushing for garden reopening in Scotland and Wales. Our Chairs in those countries have written to their tourism ministers to emphasise the economic and social benefit this would bring. We have received encouraging acknowledgements of these letters, though we are yet to receive the green light for garden reopening to begin in either country - decisions will undoubtedly depend on the daily reports of the progress of the virus.
As we move into June, we will continue to press for the early resumption of garden reopening in Scotland and Wales. We will also continue to call for government action on weddings, alongside further clarity on when other aspects of members’ businesses – such as self-catering, events and house tours – may be able to reopen. While these immediate priorities are inevitably taking up much of our time at the moment, we’re not losing sight of the future; bespoke longer-term support will be needed for the heritage and tourism industries and we’re using our weekly meeting with the Heritage & Tourism Minister and the Heritage Working Group – among other avenues – to highlight the importance of this future-focused support package.
Emma and Lydia, the policy team
Photo: Arley Hall & Gardens re-opened their gardens to the pubiic on 29th May and were also declared a nominee for Garden of the Year 2020 this month.