The solution to Britain’s housing crisis

21 August 2019

David Hopkins, director Confederation of Timber Industries highlights the work of the APPG for the Timber Industries

There is near universal agreement that the UK is in a housing crisis, with both the Conservative and Labour parties advocating for major housebuilding programmes to tackle the issue. The extent of the crisis can be seen clearly in England, where between 240,000 and 340,000 new homes need to be built per year in order to tackle the existing housing shortfall, according to the House of Commons Library.

This crisis worsens issues such as inequality, homelessness, and poverty, however with Brexit and the recent leadership battle occupying much of Westminster’s time, progress on tackling this issue has been slow. Increasingly, it becomes the role of industry to help ensure the government can make informed decisions and achieve their policy goals – including on housing. Given the right conditions, we know that within the timber industry there is capacity to support building these houses. Through the Confederation of Timber Industries (CTI) we are setting out to make this known.

Along with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Timber Industries (APPG), the CTI is bringing together experts from across the timber supply chain to investigate how timber can help solve Britain’s housing crisis. Over the course of three witness sessions in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh this summer, the APPG for the Timber Industries is looking into the extent of the housing crisis, capacity within the timber industry to solve it, skills within the industry and ways to address any shortages, and sustainability within the construction industry. Experts include industry experts with boots on the ground, business leaders, trade groups and academics.

For the timber industry, delivering to the scale needed remains a challenge. There are potential supply issues which could arise from Brexit, a ticking ‘time bomb’ in the size and demographics of the industries workforce which, as the Farmer Review identifi ed, could see a 20-25% decline in available labour force within a decade, and of course regulatory issues following the Grenfell Tower fi re. However, there are also opportunities.

Timber can be integrated into modern methods of construction such as off-site, which allows houses to be built in factories quicker, safer, cheaper, and with more precision than traditional building methods. Timber can also help the government reach the new target to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. By both acting as a carbon sink, and using less energy than any other material during the construction process, for every m3 of timber used across the supply chain, one tonne of CO2 is stored – a strong argument in favour of using timber. Timber construction is also quicker, quieter, requires fewer deliveries than concrete or steel, and is more insulating.

Already the amount of timber used in UK housing is on the rise, with around 28.1% of new homes now being built using timber frame, according to the Structural Timber Association, but this trend should not be taken for granted. Out of these witness sessions between industry experts, business leaders, academics and politicians, a report will be produced which will lay down the path to a sustainable, secure, and innovative housing industry, with timber at its heart. Only through political willpower, understanding, and a partnership between government and industry, will we be able to reach both our housing and emissions targets.