Wales should dramatically increase timber construction says new industry alliance

Expansion of the sector would benefit economy, environment and people

Wales should aim to dramatically increase the number of timber frame buildings constructed each year according to a new industry alliance.

Woodknowledge Wales is a member organisation that replaces a confusing amalgam of three Welsh Government-funded initiatives – all with their own steering groups – that operated under the banner of the Wales Forest Business Partnership, together with sector support organisation the Welsh Timber Forum.

The new organisation was launched at Woodbuild Wales, a Cardiff conference that attracted more than a hundred representatives from across the housing and timber sectors – from saw mills and timber importers to architects and local authority housing departments.

“The issue with forestry is that it requires long-term commitment,” said Woodknowledge Wales chairman Gary Newman. “Previously, our initiatives were funded by governments whose policy priorities varied from year-to-year. If you are concerned about jumping through hoops to preserve funding, you don’t serve the industry so well – you end up serving your paymaster instead.

“So we have established Woodknowledge Wales independent of government, which enables us to have a consistent, long-term mission of developing wood-based industries for the increased prosperity and well-being in Wales. Organisations join because they want to form an alliance to pursue that mission.

“Woodknowledge Wales will create a collaborative network of organisations, from growers to customers, to facilitate information exchange, joint ventures and collective action. Our first three members were  Wales and West Housing Association – one of Wales’s largest housing organisations – Hughes Architects from mid Wales and Swansea-based Fforest  Timber Engineering. That gives you an idea of how we aim to bring together a diverse range of organisations within a single alliance.”

Woodknowledge Wales will work closely with member organisations to provide support services including training, technical advice, knowledge transfer and trade visits but its chief aim is to foster co-operation across the sector.

“Housing associations want to collaborate with suppliers to maximise the social value of using local companies and local materials where they can,” said Gary Newman. “Architects want to work in partnership with housing associations to develop affordable timber framed housing with the lowest possible running costs.”

Timber housing currently accounts for less than 25 per cent of new homes in Wales. Woodknowledge Wales says the industry should aim to treble that and has already announced work with sector partners, social housing organisations, architects and Welsh Government to develop a procurement guide to encourage the specification and use of homegrown timber.

“Expansion of the forest sector is not simply an opportunity; it is a necessity,” said Gary Newman. “Well-managed woodlands contribute to climate change mitigation, flood prevention, soil health, clean air and biodiversity. Using more wood – especially more homegrown wood – in construction and manufacturing and growing more trees is good for Wales’s economy, our environment and our people.

“Yet woodland covers less than fifteen per cent of Wales. Average forest cover in the rest of Europe is more than twice that. At the moment, Wales is struggling to plant sufficient trees to maintain existing processing let alone enable the sector to expand.

“Woodknowledge Wales will bring organisations together to drive that expansion. Our manifesto is not about saying, ‘We want Welsh Government to do this and we want Welsh Government to do that’. It is about what we as a sector are going to do – our vision.”