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Government routemap for timber

Words:
Stephen Cousins

The RIBA's 2030 Climate Challenge is among the education and training initiatives under way to boost timber use in England, says Defra

Increasing the use of Scottish timber in construction could lower costs and create green jobs.
Increasing the use of Scottish timber in construction could lower costs and create green jobs. Credit: Construction Scotland Innovation Centre

The RIBA is among the education and training institutions helping the sector scale up to use of timber in construction cited in the government's publication on timber.

The Timber in Construction Roadmap, published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), outlines the opportunities and barriers to increase the material’s use in construction in England.

It highlights the RIBA as among the institutions that have begun rising to the challenge of developing innovative and relevant training and guidance, citing its 2030 Climate Challenge.

Increasing ‘skills, capacity and competency across the supply chain’ is one of seven priority themes identified by the report as necessary to promote the use of ‘safe, best practice, high-performing timber construction’ and meet national net zero targets.

The 2030 Climate Challenge sets chartered practices the target of achieving net zero whole life carbon emissions (or better) by 2030 at the latest.  Among other things, it calls on practices to achieve a minimum 40% reduction in embodied carbon, compared to current business as usual benchmarks, by using low carbon materials, such as timber, that are responsibly and ethically sourced.

Other institutions working on skills, capacity and competence include the New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering (NMITE), whose BSc (Hons) in the Sustainable Built Environment, due to launch in 2024, will ‘equip people with a deeper insight into timber construction’ says the report.

Timber Development UK and NMITE have published a Timber in Construction Skills Action Plan, providing an industry-agreed competence framework outlining essential skills and knowledge for practitioners.

The RIBA was involved in developing the timber roadmap via a series of steering group meetings, including a meeting with former minister Trudy Harrison at DEFRA.

According to Nell Brown, senior policy advisor at the RIBA, key messages that the Institute tried to communicate included the need to ensure that architects ‘have the skills and knowledge to design and choose the right materials to help reach net zero’ and to set ‘ambitious embodied carbon targets’, such as those in the 2030 Climate Challenge that help prioritise the use of low carbon materials, such as timber.

‘A consistent methodology backed by the government, for example the RICS Professional Statement, is key to helping reduce embodied carbon,’ said Brown. ‘We are helping our members improve their climate literacy and introducing new mandatory competencies in this area.’

The demonstrator prototype could lay the groundwork for the creation of climate-positive communities like those being spearheaded by SNRG.
The demonstrator prototype could lay the groundwork for the creation of climate-positive communities like those being spearheaded by SNRG. Credit: SNRG

The other themes are: Improving data on timber and whole life carbon; promoting the safe, sustainable use of timber as a construction material; increasing the sustainable supply of timber; addressing fire safety and durability concerns to safely expand the use of engineered mass timber; increasing collaboration with insurers, lenders, and warranty providers; and promoting innovation and high performing timber construction systems.

Improving data on timber and whole life carbon is needed, says Defra, to ensure that the carbon impact data “is robust and used consistently.” According to the report, Environmental product declaration (EPD) data for timber products needs to be made more comprehensive and consistent and the impact of timber construction on a building’s lifespan and on demolition, construction rates and associated carbon emissions needs greater understanding. As does timber’s impact on transport emissions.

The report points to sector-led initiatives already underway to address embodied carbon emissions, such as the Future Homes Hub’s Embodied and Whole Life Carbon: 2023 to 2025 Implementation plan for housebuilding, the update to the RICS Professional Statement for assessing whole life carbon in the built environment, and the development of the Built Environment Carbon Database.

The routemap includes several Government and industry pledges to help build the sector’s capacity. The government will, by 2025, establish a multi-stakeholder industry forum to work to close occupational skills gaps and address the growing demand for skilled labour and competent professionals. In addition, before December 2024, it will conduct research to quantify additional workforce requirements for the increased use of timber in construction. Work is also planned to promote timber construction skills with implementation of the wider industry-led Forestry Skills Action Plan.

The RIBA was involved in developing the roadmap via a series of steering group meetings, including a meeting with former Minister Trudy Harrison (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs). It also directly fed information to civil servants, responded to queries and reviewed drafts of the report.

Asked if there is anything missing from that the RIBA wanted to see included, Brown said: “A commitment from the Government to regulate whole life carbon targets in the future would have been welcome. This would not only help increase the amount of timber used in buildings but also help us prioritise re-use and retrofit.”

Using more timber in construction is a key vehicle to cutting emissions from buildings, yet 80% of timber currently used in the UK is imported, underlining the need to boost domestic capacity.

 

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