UK Government Sets Out Timber Expansion Plan

Timber in construction roadmap

The UK Government has given its clearest signal yet that it’s serious about decarbonising construction as it laid out its Timber in Construction Roadmap on Monday.

The Timber in Construction Roadmap is a policy document that outlines how the UK Government intends to expand the safe use of timber in construction as well as increase domestic wood supply.

The policy roadmap is split into seven priority themes identified by both government and industry in the Timber in Construction Working Group. TDUK was a key member of this working group alongside industry partners such as Confor and the Structural Timber Association.

Each theme looks to identify barriers to timber use, and what policy solutions and industry actions are available to address them.

Key Actions set out in the plan include:timber expansion plan

  • Improving data on timber and whole life carbon 
  • Promoting timber as a construction material
  • Boosting skills, capacity, and competency across the supply chain
  • Increasing the supply of sustainable timber products
  • Addressing fire safety concerns to safely expand the use of engineered mass timber
  • Building collaboration with insurers, lenders, and warranty providers
  • Promoting innovation and high performing timber construction systems

Why has the Government published a roadmap?

The roadmap was created to action the commitments in the government’s Net Zero Strategy and England Trees Action Plan, which pledged to increase the safe use of timber in construction and reduce embodied carbon in the built environment.

The built environment accounts for 25% of our national emissions and must be decarbonised if we are to reach net zero by 2050. Timber is excellent at reducing these emissions because:

  • It acts as a form of carbon capture and storage, as the carbon dioxide sequestered by trees is stored in the wood product for the product’s lifetime.
  • It increases the number of trees grown in sustainably managed forests, which helps to sequester even more carbon dioxide.
  • It requires very little energy throughout the supply chain of harvesting, processing, and manufacturing.
  • It displaces carbon-intensive materials to reduce the carbon footprint of a building.

Since COP26, when we launched the Time for Timber Manifesto, government advisory bodies such as the Climate Change Committee and Environmental Audit Committee have all independently called on the government these to recognise these benefits.

A solid foundation to build on

The roadmap marks a seminal moment for the timber industry, with the UK Government now making a cast iron commitment to expanding timber use in construction.

For many years there have been mixed signals around timber in construction from government, as while promises would be made to one department to boost industry, others would push policies which undercut the safe use of timber in construction.

This document now provides the consistency industry has been asking for, setting out clear intentions to increase timber use in construction, particularly in housing.

The roadmap also outlines the governments intentions to support key industry areas essential to timber expansion. For example, in Priority Theme 2, where the UK Government has promised to support timber MMC “to deliver quality homes more quickly and more sustainably though Home England’s strategic plan”.

As stated in our recent APPG report, the government must provide both effective environmental regulation and market incentives to expand timber construction in the UK. The roadmap provides a great foundation in achieving this aim.

Work to be done

Though there are many positives from the roadmap, it must be viewed as a good start rather than the finished article.

We are particularly disappointed to see a watered-down commitment on embodied carbon regulation, which has now been pushed back to 2025 having previously been promised this year.

Embodied carbon limits are essential to expanding timber use, incentivising developers to use low-carbon materials in construction. This was identified by industry as the key policy change required to expand timber use at the recent APPG for the Timber Industries Luncheon.

There is also a lack of policy detail throughout the report, with many commitments appearing flimsy and difficult to measure.

What next?

Overall, despite some drawbacks, the roadmap must be viewed as a really positive development for our industry. It provides a great foundation for our future lobbying efforts and signals clear intent from the government.

The Timber in Construction Working Group will continue to meet regularly to track delivery of the actions outlined in the document and to scope and implement new actions as needed.

TDUK, along with our industry partners, will continue to work extensively with the government to ensure the commitments are actioned and, in some cases, expanded, in the coming years.

Given the current shape of the polls, we will also be continuing our engagement with the Labour Party to ensure they either continue this roadmap or produce something similar if elected next year.

Read the Timber in Construction Policy Roadmap here.