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Tue, 27 October 2020

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Extending the combustible materials ban will severely inhibit our ability to decarbonise the construction industry

Extending the combustible materials ban will severely inhibit our ability to decarbonise the construction industry

Credit: Wood for Good

Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive, Structural Timber Association | Wood for Good

4 min read Partner content

Quicker to construct, quieter to assemble, delivering cost savings and with impeccable environmental credentials – engineered timber systems should be the number one choice for any building.

The Government’s consultation on extending the ban on combustible materials to more building types and lowering the height restriction in England from 18m to 11m closed on 25 May – as yet no decision has been reached.

This ruling, if adopted, will severely inhibit our ability to decarbonise the UK construction industry.

Interestingly there has been quite a backlash since the consultation closed and what appeared to be a foregone conclusion now hangs in the balance.

The Build Back Better and Wood Co2ts Less campaigns are gathering momentum, but it is not only the timber advocates and eco warriors that are driving the debate – the media has also got in on the action and is influencing opinions.

The Committee on Climate Change has advised the government to use the coronavirus crisis as a catalyst for reducing the construction industry’s use of carbon and called for ministers to seize the opportunity to make the industry greener.

This is a massive opportunity for the UK to make a sizable step change – in just a few short weeks of lockdown we witnessed how the climate can recover. The problem is clear, we have the technology – we just need to make better use of what we have.

Quicker to construct, quieter to assemble, delivering cost savings and with impeccable environmental credentials – engineered timber systems should be the number one choice for any building.

But whilst the government deliberates over consultation decision, it is clear that the UK is out of step with the approach being taken by leading economies in Europe as evidenced by the actions of President Macron – he has ruled that all new publicly funded buildings in France should be delivered from at least 50% timber or other natural materials by 2022.

Another study from Germany’s Potsdam Institute found that a global boom in wood buildings could lock in up to 700 million tons of carbon a year. And I can only agree with the head of the Committee on Climate Change, Chris Stark when he said: ‘Timber buildings can be tall and safe. Displacing cement, brick and steel with wood means more than double the carbon savings in buildings overall.’

The STA and other timber trade bodies firmly state that the government in England has misunderstood the science behind timber construction.

Lowering the height restriction in England from 18m to 11m and imposing a blanket ban that is not based on building physics, test evidence or scientific facts is seen as a quick fix and as a result, the UK could experience far reaching implications for decades to come.

Climate change is not some abstract concept, if not dramatically addressed it will be catastrophic and the biggest crisis of our time. 

There is now real positivity around our sector.

Timber systems are now acknowledged as the optimum construction solution in the battle to reduce carbon emissions.

Trees are at the heart of the climate change debate.

Once carbon sequestration was a natural phenomenon only understood by scientists but now that has all changed and terms such as ‘carbon sink’ are commonly used.

Commercially managed woodlands lock down a third more CO2 than wild forests – so the growing of timber and use in construction is vital in the battle to reduce carbon emissions.

The Government’s response to climate change has been to set net zero carbon targets by 2050 but there is no ‘road map’ to navigate this journey if the most sustainable and replenishable of all building products, is potentially banned.

With as much as 7% of all global CO2 emissions coming from other less sustainable construction technologies, it is difficult to see how these targets will ever be met if these restrictions come into force.

Structural Timber Association (STA)

The STA's mission is to enhance quality and drive product innovation through technical guidance and research, underpinned by a members' quality standard assessment – the STA Assure Membership and Quality Standards Scheme.

All buildings must be designed to comply with the functional protocols of the Building Regulations for fire safety requirements, as a minimum standard.

The STA has invested in an industry leading fire in use research project to test and prove commonly used timber frame wall, floor and roof make ups used in the UK marketplace.

The output of this research, a pattern book of EN tested systems, is believed to be the first of its kind in the UK timber frame sector.

This research now forms part of the STA’s best practice guidance and is free to download here.

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