SCOTLAND’S horticultural sector has been left at a “competitive disadvantage” to the rest of the UK by not being able to reopen garden centres as the lockdown restrictions ease, according to its trade body.

The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) said such premises in England and Wales had been allowed to open this week and those in Northern Ireland will be permitted to open for business from Monday.

While most enterprises are remaining closed because of lockdown restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, many garden centres in England and Wales managed to reopen their doors on Wednesday for the first time in nearly two months.

The HTA said it had produced Safe Trading Guidance paper, which covers all aspects of how garden centres can reopen while ensuring that staff and customers remain safe.

It said its guidance document was based on insight from leading HTA retailers, the British Retail Consortium, and from government advice and was a recommendation of best practice regarding social distancing.

Cafes, restaurants and children’s play areas will not be allowed to reopen under the guidelines.

The document includes advice on the number of customers allowed in stores, entrance and exit protocols and queueing and checkout procedures.

It also contains practical advice on how to protect staff health and wellbeing.

The HTA said customers could expect controlled access to car parks and limits on in-store customer numbers, based on a recommendation of one per 1000 sq ft.

Customers will be asked to shop with a maximum of one other person if possible and will be required to keep two metre distancing throughout the store and whilst queueing.

James Barnes, who chairs the HTA, said: “We welcome the Northern Ireland Executive’s announcement that garden centres will be able to reopen from Monday. We are in peak season, so this news will be welcomed both by gardeners and the garden industry – providing an economic boost and enable access to the mental and physical well-being benefits that gardening brings.

“This now leaves Scotland as the last remaining country in the UK yet to announce garden centre reopening. The Scottish horticultural industry have been left at a competitive disadvantage relative to all other parts of the UK.

“Consumers in Scotland will be confused why garden centres cannot open in their local area.

“We have outlined to the Government that the industry has social distancing measures in place in order to reopen safely. They should now announce a reopening date as soon as possible.”

However, the Scottish Government said while progress was being made here, it was “fragile”.

A spokesperson said: “Our message remains the same – stay home, protect the NHS, save lives. The difficult sacrifices we are all making during lockdown are working – however, this progress remains fragile.

“While we absolutely share the desire of businesses to re-open, as the First Minister has made clear our responsibility is to make the right judgements for Scotland – and on the reopening of garden centres, as with other sectors, it would be wrong to hurry into any decision which would not be to Scotland’s benefit.”