Garden centres in England will be permitted to reopen next week as part of first-step measures to gradually ease the coronavirus-related lockdown.
It has been confirmed to the PA news agency that the Prime Minister will announce on Sunday that garden centres will be allowed to open their doors to customers from Wednesday May 13.
Nursery bosses will have to ensure visitors obey social distancing measures, such as keeping two metres away from others, and will be expected to put restrictions in place to control shop numbers in a similar way to supermarkets.
UK supermarkets have introduced queuing systems and one-way aisles to limit the interaction customers and staff have with one another, while also creating cleaning stations where trolley and basket handles can be disinfected.
With strict social distancing measures in place we believe they can open safely from next weekUK Government source
Extra cleaning regimes have been introduced and perspex screens installed for check-out staff – a pattern garden centres could be set to follow.
A senior Government source said: “Garden centres typically open large open-air spaces where the risk of transmission of coronavirus is lower.
“With strict social distancing measures in place we believe they can open safely from next week.”
The confirmation follows the announcement by the Welsh government that garden centres will be able to open from Monday.
First Minister Mark Drakeford, speaking at a briefing in Cardiff on Friday, said: “Our second planned change to the regulations is to allow garden centres to reopen, provided the social distancing rules can be applied.”
The Welsh Labour leader also said councils could plan to reopen recycling centres – a measure already recommended to English local authorities by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick.
Boris Johnson will formally make the announcement about garden centres during his Sunday evening address to the nation.
Environment Secretary George Eustice used his appearance at the Downing Street daily briefing to dampen expectations about a wholesale lifting of lockdown restrictions by the PM, stating that there “isn’t going to be any dramatic overnight change”.
But the reopening of garden centres will be part of what Government sources say will be a gradual loosening of the current social distancing restrictions in the coming weeks.
Garden centres will be told, as part of guidance being issued by the UK Government, that any cafes or playgrounds associated with the retail space will not be able to reopen.
It is understood garden centres have been selected as one of the first retail groups to open not only because of the outdoor nature of their setting but also because of the particular financial hardships being felt by the horticulture sector.
Research for the Horticultural Trades Association last month found that, even with access to UK Government aid packages, a third of businesses are likely to be insolvent by the end of the year in the face of the pandemic lockdown.
Some 13% of the ornamental growers who responded to the poll claim they will be out of business by the end of June.
Following the publication of the results, leading gardeners and television presenters, including Alan Titchmarsh, Adam Frost, Bunny Guinness and Joe Swift, backed calls for specialised support to be provided to the industry.