Staggering. Really that’s the only word that adequately describes the new Norwich Open Academy which, when complete, will be among the UK’s biggest timber buildings. The main block of the 9,500m² school is a striking oval, the classrooms ringing a central atrium with a domed roof that soars up to 18m. And, bar a few RSJs, the building is top to toe wood. The main structure is entirely cross-laminated timber panels (CLT),?while the dome comprises more of the same sitting on huge glulam beams.

Just as impressive as the Academy’s scale and design are its environmental credentials. Its 3,600m³ of CLT store 2,900 tonnes of CO2, making it carbon negative.

All in all it’s a great achievement and everyone involved, notably structural engineers Ramboll and contractors Kier Eastern, is keen to do more of the same. The potential prize if they do and others follow suit is not just a further advance for UK timber building, but also valuable ‘fall out’ for the wider timber trade, as structures like the Academy open people’s eyes to the possibilities of using wood generally.

The question now though is whether this enthusiasm is going to be dampened by the latest change in UK government procurement rules.

After its Central Point of Expertise on Timber approved the PEFC, FSC, SFI, CSA and MTCS certification schemes as proof of wood legality and sustainability, it now says they face review to ensure their ‘social criteria’ are up to scratch. They may all pass the test, but no-one knows for sure. If they don’t, specifiers will have to reassess which schemes they work with and face another complication in choosing timber, and not only for government projects, as its procurement criteria inevitably influence those of the wider public and private sectors. The building industry wants to build more Norwich Academies, but, in today’s tough economic climate, it won’t take much extra grief to persuade it to go for easier options.