New Year predictions29 January 2020
A new decade is here. Can you believe it is 20 years since the Millennium?
As ever with the start of a new year, and even more so with the start of a new decade, we inevitably look at what the future may hold.
In our Predictions focus we asked a number of key people in the timber industries for views about business prospects this year.
The general view is that an election “bounce” and more certainty on the direction of Brexit will help. One of our contributors said a surveyor recently told him he had nine jobs commissioned on the back of the election.
Another predicted “a price recovery of sorts” for softwood but with the potential for some shortages and supply delays, while a further contact did not think there would be any further stockpiling of products as there was before last year’s March 31 Brexit deadline.
The Hackitt Review of Building Regulations & Fire Safety was mentioned as having continued influence.
Following the Grenfell fire and the Review, subsequent changes to building regulations meant that new timber buildings with structural timber walls effectively could not be constructed over 18m high.
On that point, you will see in our news section that Legal & General (L&G) has said that it is to use steel and concrete systems for its apartment building programme and cross-laminated timber (CLT) for low-rise houses.
This feels like a significant announcement.
You may remember L&G made a decision to invest in off-site housing in 2016, specifically using CLT as the structural system.
It set up a factory near Leeds and invested significant sums in production technology. It’s fair to say the project has been hit by multiple delays and difficulties and changes in leadership since then and only a fraction of its target number of CLT homes have been delivered.
L&G did not comment specifically on whether the updated building regulations following Grenfell influenced its decision to steer away from CLT for apartment projects but in its statement it referred to meeting regulatory and customer requirements.
It is likely that the Grenfell effect influenced its decision in some way. Make no mistake this is a big call on building materials for a company which has invested about £90m in its modular homes arm.
L&G has made a big play on CLT use delivering further environmental benefits by storing 1 tonne of CO2 in every cubic metre of CLT used in the construction of its homes.
It is heartening that L&G will still build houses from CLT, but a large amount of apartment volumes it is planning will now not use the material.
Once again we come back to the updated regulations and their impact having consequences for wood. In the face of this, the timber sector needs to keep up its lobbying work, providing performance-based evidence in the hope of changing regulators’ minds in the future.