The Structural Timber Association has been invited to participate in the Timber in Construction Working Group which brought together key industry stakeholders to develop a policy roadmap to help the Government safely increase the use of timber in construction, a crucial step in achieving the UK’s Net Zero target for 2050.

The Timber in Construction (TiC) working group is tasked with identifying significant actions that should be taken by the Government, the construction industry and the timber industry in order to increase the number of timber and hybrid structures built in the UK. To identify the key actions to take, a full understanding of the barriers faced in the construction industry is crucial. During a recent luncheon, the STA asked Mark Wakeford, Managing Director at Stepnell, what barriers he believes are preventing more widespread use of structural timber:

“Many of the contractors I represent struggle to use structural timber systems, as it costs them far more to insure than ‘traditional’ methods. There are, of course, some insurers that will back timber projects. If you can get the right information to the right people in the right insurance roles, we can expect a greater structural timber uptake. Bridging the knowledge gap between the timber and insurance sectors will be key.

“Aside from that, I think that solving the skills shortage will be crucial. Although the skills shortage is being felt across all materials, it is much easier to find a bricklayer than a CLT installer, for example. As such, this issue needs to be tackled sooner rather than later to see some success.”

The TiC working group has two primary objectives – to foster collaboration between sectors to develop a clear policy to increase timber in construction and to produce a policy roadmap to outline a clear implementation plan. Oliver Schofield, Co-Founder of Lignum Risk Partners, offered an interesting solution to increasing the use of structural timber in the UK and improving the accountability for material usage:

“We need to have a standardised system in place that provides insurers with access to much more robust data. Don’t be mistaken, many insurers would like to support timber projects but without the data or knowledge, it is difficult for them to do so.

“I think that the most effective solution would be to introduce a blockchain that can be used as a record. Everybody should be obliged by regulation to record their use of materials, whether sustainable or not. This will not only ensure that no corners are being cut, but it will also equip insurers with a wealth of data that is desperately needed.”

Many figures within the timber construction industry believe that boosting market confidence with lenders, insurance companies and warranty providers is the best route forward for a wider uptake in timber construction. Mike Ormesher, Director of the Offsite Homes Alliance, feels that more must be done to aid the education and understanding of timber and hybrid construction to alleviate any safety concerns:

“There must be an open channel of communication to help insurers and investors understand timber construction and allow facts to dispel the misconceptions of structural timber. Perhaps the use of workshops, seminars, webinars and physical roadshow demonstrations is the best route forward to improve this knowledge base of using structural timber in construction.”

Suzannah Nichol Chief Executive of Build UK voiced concerns over whether the construction sector is approaching challenges with those outside the industry in the correct manner:

“Within the construction sector, we spend a lot of time discussing issues that are not directly within our control, instead of addressing those we can influence head on. I believe that the issues with insurers and financers are exacerbated by the poor level of communication between the industries. To deal with this, we need to be speaking in a language that those outside the industry understand. Instead of shouting loudly about all the problems in construction, we should be speaking in simpler terms about what ‘good’ looks like in the industry in terms of build quality, materials, and competence, explaining what we are doing about each of these and what we need others to do.

To this day, certain terminology used within cross-industry discussions and documents confuse even those within construction, which will only add layer upon layer of confusion to those outside of it. We need to be clear about standards and competence, while communicating in layman’s terms to improve clarity across the board.”

While the policy roadmap produced by the Timber in Construction working group will not be Government policy, it will be submitted to ministers for approval. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) advises that increased use of timber in construction is required to achieve net-zero, suggesting that timber-frame new build houses need to increase from 28% to 40% by 2050 to achieve these carbon-neutral goals. This may sound like we have a great deal of time, but in reality, these changes must be implemented immediately to allow ample time for the environmental effect to be felt.

The STA works closely with industry stakeholders to address all the issues that timber construction faces in the industry, including those regarding insurance. The association continues to commission and compile a significant amount of research resulting in guides and whitepapers that provide a better understanding of the use of timber in construction from a risk management perspective. This research gives factual scientific data and statistical evidence to present to the insurance sector. The STA will continue to raise the profile of timber as a safe construction material, backed by scientific data and will support the TiC with this evidence along with its in-depth knowledge of the structural timber industry.

To find out more about the STA and to view research documentation and reports, visit: https://www.structuraltimber.co.uk/

Timber is an enduring and renewable building material, with up to 90% of the timber used in the UK coming from certified sustainable sources such as the FSC and the PEFC. Across the forests of Europe, five trees are planted for every one harvested, with much of the remaining imported timber coming from well managed forest providers from across the globe. As a net carbon contributor, roughly one tonne of carbon is stored for every cubic metre of timber used, its credentials to be at the heart of net zero by 2050 are unquestionable.

With the need to increase sustainability and to support the economy in the UK, the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs has tabled a 25-year Environment Plan which states:

“…using resources from nature more sustainably & efficiently…increasing timber supplies”

This focus is further reinforced with a commitment to create new forests on both private and the least productive agricultural land, with an ambition to plant 11 million trees. This policy puts timber at the centre of the future for building, with an increase in ‘home grown timber used in England in construction, creating a conveyor belt of locked-in carbon in our homes and buildings. A wide range of economic and environmental benefits will flow from commercial afforestation to meet the growing demand for timber’. This long-term supply of English grown timber is designed to meet current and future increases in demand.

This project will also keep the Public Forest Estate in trust for the nation and indicates not only the environmental but also the social benefits it contributes for present and future generations to enjoy.

As well as being a sustainable building material, timber adds to a sustainable, home grown economy, with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) valuing the forestry and timber sector at over £8.5 billion, placing it in the top 20 major industries in the UK. The sector also provides a wealth of employment opportunities across all the regions of the UK, offering training and skills in a diverse number of ways, from forestry, land and habitat management to joinery and manufacturing, engineering and architectural design. In the construction sector alone, wood related trades account for around 10% of all jobs.

With this overwhelming move towards a greener and more sustainable society, with the growth of forestry in the UK, the trees that are grown need to be used, otherwise they will rot and release the CO2 captured, thereby making the planting pointless. Therefore the circular economy of creating new forests to grow more trees, harvesting and using them for construction is a simple, but effective, sustainable and economic argument to support the fact that Now is the Time for Timber.

“There is a huge opportunity for England’s woodlands to drive a sustainable economic revival, to improve the health and well-being of the nation, and to provide better and more connected places for nature. We need a new culture of thinking and action around wood and woodlands, and a new way of valuing and managing the natural and social capital of our woodland resource, alongside the timber they contain.”

The former Right Reverend Bishop James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, Chairman of the Independent Panel on Forestry established by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.