Quality of material has been the abiding measure of timber’s worth within our trade. Yet those buying our products need more than the simple goodness of fibre to persuade them to buy.

Dennis Seal is managing director of Kier Partnership Homes (KPH), one of the UK’s most significant providers of new build social housing. “Timber is integral to our business and we look to timber suppliers to be innovative with their material. We’ve been lobbied by the steel and concrete sectors, telling us where they will be with their products in 10 years’ time. We haven’t as yet seen the same innovative approach to research and development from the timber sector,” he said.

KPH’s share of turnover attributable to timber frame housing has risen to 85% in the past three years. Mr Seal says the whole approach to the procurement of building materials for social housing has changed over the decade with the promotion of Local Development Frameworks, and with the advent of the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), which governs public procurement projects valued above £3.8m. This threshold is set low compared to many of today’s building projects, consequently the OJEU process now covers much of the local developments and regeneration projects available for tendering bids.

To demystify its significance for timber sales, in general terms the effect is to place new judgement criteria alongside the material’s quality – criteria which apply to the supplier’s quality of business operations. This is the driver behind The Timber Trade Federation’s attempts to uplift its members’ awareness of corporate social responsibility issues beyond timber certification.

When competing to win a bid for a social housing new-build project, in many cases 60-70% of the client’s decision to award a contract to KPH will be based on qualitative criteria, and only 30-40% on price. This has effects throughout the supply chain. “In addition to good architectural design and choice of materials, we have to demonstrate our engagement with the local community and our track record as a considerate contractor. Our supply chain partners must similarly be able to demonstrate their corporate social responsibility, business ethics and values.”


Amongst the various bid judgement factors, ‘sustainability’ features highly on the agenda, and is interpreted across many platforms, as Mr Seal explained. “Housing clients can select the criteria they want to set as targets for bidders. Sustainability could include the ability of the proposed development to both create and maintain local employment. Additionally it can include use of local materials – locally-available timber and wood products, for example. One of the key influencing factors at present is the minimisation of movements connected with construction materials. This comes from the highest level within policy-making. We therefore need suppliers’ help in finding ways to minimise transport of materials to site.

“We may need to look beyond our current production techniques towards greater off-site and component manufacture, moving towards whole-building solutions,” Mr Seal continued. “Instead of having bathroom or kitchen pods we want to minimise the number of modules needed to construct a house. We want to see innovation from the timber sector here: we commend those timber frame companies that have moved techniques forward, developing SIPS and open and closed panel systems. Stewart Milne’s development of the sustainability Level 6 Sigma house is an excellent example of innovation.

“KPH’s housing clients are looking to generate more value from the palette of materials used in their buildings, and there’s no doubt that limiting the number of materials creates cost efficiencies. Whether timber is amongst this number is down to you. The timber sector has a real opportunity to look at itself and see where it wants to be in 10 years’ time. Without greater research and development or innovation, timber is neither promoting its interests nor protecting its future.”