BSW has unveiled plans to expand its Howie Forest Products mill in Dalbeattie which, it says, will boost both customer and supplier confidence in British-grown timber.

The company, which acquired Howie last November, is investing £7m to increase Dalbeattie’s annual capacity by 75% to 350,000m³ and says work at the site should start soon.

“Howie’s technical team had already developed plans for the mill and we’re building on these,” said BSW chief executive Tony Hackney. “We’re now talking with technology suppliers, so the project could be under way in a month, with the first benefits coming through early 2011.”

The first part of the project comprises installation of a £5m new planing and grading line which will nearly double output of Easi-Edge construction timber to 120,000m³ a year.

“We’re also putting in a £1m stacking line to release the full potential of the mill on the green side,” said Mr Hackney. “This will result in an additional 50,000m³ Easi-Edge capacity.”

Another £1m will be spent on a biomass boiler to heat the kilns, to be fuelled by the plant’s own by-products.

The productivity of the new technology means that BSW won’t need to increase Dalbeattie’s 160-strong workforce. But the investment gives jobs at the plant added stability, it said.

“It’s the coming to fruition of the acquisition by BSW and has been strongly welcomed by staff,” said Howie managing director Hamish Macleod.

According to Mr Hackney, the Dalbeattie project also formed part of BSW’s wider strategy to develop the scale and scope of the British-grown timber market, with particular emphasis on developing its use in higher specification construction applications.

“With no signs that exchange rates are set to make imports any more competitive, we’re giving customers added assurance on the stability and range of home-grown supply,” he said.

The investment would also increase timber suppliers’ confidence that BSW would provide them with “continuous, reliable offtake”.

Further spending is also planned elsewhere in the group. This includes construction of the new ‘K2’ Fort William mill, new biomass boilers here and at Newbridge and new planing facilities at Carlisle.