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Why contractors should be specifying the use of home-grown timber

The UK is facing a major housing shortage, that’s no secret. 240,000 new homes are needed every year – double what we currently deliver.

These facts leave construction clients with something of a dilemma – and it’s not a dilemma restricted to the housing sector. The question is how can our buildings be delivered not just quickly, but efficiently, and in line with low carbon targets?

The responsibility for finding a solution lies squarely at the door of developers, contractors, and suppliers, but there’s a clear client directive emerging: home-grown products matter.

This news in itself is unsurprising. Construction clients have long encouraged local sourcing, now also being driven by the Social Value Act.

And there’s a growing need to consider embodied, rather than just operational, carbon. This has resulted in the manufacture, transport and construction of building materials coming under growing scrutiny.

Timber challenge

It’s this combination of factors, and a pro-active stance from Willmott Dixon, that recently led Catalyst Housing – one of the leading housing associations for London and the South-east - to specify the use of home-grown timber on a housing scheme in South Kilburn, part of the London Borough of Brent’s multi-phase South Kilburn Estate Regeneration programme. And they’re not alone.

According to recent research conducted by Grown in Britain via the UK Contractors Group, 71 per cent of contractors surveyed felt that clients would prefer materials to be sourced from Britain. Timber is a good place to start.

“The UK construction sector uses a vast amount of timber every year, and a staggering 80 per cent of it comes from abroad”

The UK construction sector uses a vast amount of timber every year, and a staggering 80 per cent of it comes from abroad. This isn’t down to a lack of desire to source timber here in Britain – in fact 61 per cent of the contractors we spoke to told us that they’d happily include a clause in their contracts to support greater use of British timber.

But there are historic challenges surrounding the ability to assure that home grown wood has indeed been ‘Grown in Britain’.

Earlier this year, Grown in Britain, a government and industry-backed initiative designed to create a sustainable wood culture in the UK, has moved to resolve this issue by launching the UK’s first ever licensing scheme. The scheme identifies wood that has been grown in Britain. This, in turn, allows contractors to be confident in the source and origin of the timber they’re specifying, safe in the knowledge that the forests and woods from which it originates are managed to the Government’s UK Forestry Standards.

Sustainability benefits

Of course, there are arguments for greater use of timber in general – low embodied carbon, faster build times, and major economic benefits; the forestry, wood-processing and manufacturing sectors employ 40,000 people across the UK and contribute £6.5bn to GDP. There are knock-on environmental benefits too: well-managed woodlands soak up the carbon in our atmosphere, shorten droughts, reduce flooding and provide fantastic habitats and landscapes for people and wildlife.

“Contractors pro-actively specifying British timber on their projects are responding directly to client demand, and gaining commercial advantage to boot”

But let’s set all of that aside for a moment, and focus first on the timber currently in use in the UK construction sector. Client demand for this timber to be home-grown is already strong, and driven by low carbon targets and CSR commitments, it is only set to grow.

The supply is in place; the amount of UK woodland in management has risen to 60 per cent this year. The guarantee of origin is there; 250,000 hectares are soon to be licensed as Grown in Britain, with more to come.

And there are a growing number of leading players on board – Catalyst Housing, Willmott Dixon, BAM, the Kingfisher Group, and the Crown Estate to name just a few. It’s time to buy timber grown in Britain.

Contractors pro-actively specifying British timber on their projects are responding directly to client demand, and gaining commercial advantage to boot.

Dougal Driver is CEO of Growin in Britain.

To find out more about Grown in Britain and its licensing scheme for home-grown timber visit

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