Ten weeks to critical border shift

Just ten weeks before the UK government’s planned switch-off of the Place of Destination (PoD) system on 30th April, when Border Control Points (BCPs) are set to become operational.

Trucks on motorway

Phased in on the 31st of January, the Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) set out the new model for the import of Sanitary and Phytosanitary goods, which includes plants and plant products.

The BTOM represents a significant divergence from the rules adopted by the United Kingdom during its membership of the European Union and introduces a new risk-based approach to checks on imported goods, which will be proportionate to the risks posed. Regulated plants and plant products from the EU have been categorised into high, medium, and low-risk categories – where the higher the risk category, the more biosecurity assurances are required. Inspection frequencies will change according to the risk. For the horticulture industry, plants, (certain) seeds and timber come under the high-risk category and will therefore be subject to the revised biosecurity assurances.

From the 30th of April 2024 onwards, the ‘place of destination’ scheme, which is the current system of carrying out phytosanitary checks on imported material, will cease. Checks of high-risk plants and plant products will take place at a border control post or control point. The industry fears that these checks could result in consignments being held for long periods of time, putting plant products at risk and create difficulties for ‘complex’ plant products such as root balled trees and shrubs which require expert manoeuvring by skilled people.

The Horticultural Trade Association (HTA) is urging the government to keep PoDs successfully and securely delivering for the plant trade until BCPs and alternative border routes are fully operational, viable, affordable, and tested. The HTA is urging the government to listen and take action to safeguard the thousands of growers, retailers, suppliers, landscapers, and millions of gardeners whom this change will impact.

At a recent HTA workshop, Sally Cullimore, HTA Technical Policy Manager said: “We need the UK government to take industry concerns as seriously as we do. The April date is just ten weeks away, and despite repeated meetings, calls and requests, we are none the wiser about how much it will cost and how BCPs will manage complex, high-risk plant loads safely and securely.

“The environmental horticulture sector has already spent at least £30 million to adapt; this new change will be more costly with no material gain. That is why we need urgent action to deliver on the HTA’s ask for at-site checks to continue as our priority. In addition, we have three clear asks: Firstly, we urgently need to see the outcome of the Common User Charge consultation to be at both a low-cost level and charged per phytosanitary consignment. Secondly, we need clear communication on the outstanding details of Border Control Points (BCPs) and how they will handle high-risk plants and plant products. Thirdly, we need to know the capacity and capability of BCPs to deal with the plant trade, and that is all before we even tackle accessibility to Authorised Operator Status and address hurdles to becoming a Control Point.”

The workshop host, Richard McKenna, Managing Director of Provender Nurseries, stated: “The seamless, smooth and secure movement of plants is the top priority for our business and customers. We are experts in this and resilient, but the unknowns on the border changes mean we cannot make the urgent and informed investment decisions needed to have any confidence beyond 29 April.”