Powys County Council is taking a leadership role in the development of the Welsh timber industry. As Wales’ largest county, Powys has a large area of land on which to grow trees, is the home of BSW and its geographical location enables it to service a ready market for timber products throughout Wales and England. The newly acquired freedom to build council houses has created a strong desire within the Powys Housing department to join-up timber supply with housing demand to facilitate the construction of modern high performance timber houses and do this in a manner that maximises the social benefit of their procurement helping to create much needed employment opportunities for local people.

The first step for Powys was to create the Home Grown Home Partnership. The Partnership is chaired by Simon Inkson (Head of Housing in Powys) and consists of 7 social housing providers, the Welsh Local Government Association and Community Housing Cymru (the umbrella body for the social housing organisation who currently build 25% of all new homes in Wales). The purpose of this Partnership is to support the construction of modern high performance and affordable homes in Wales which are based upon the use of wood and uses local manufacturers and local and homegrown timber resources where practical and possible.

In August this year, the Home Grown Homes Partnership secured European Arwain funding to support supply chain development and have contracted Welsh timber development organisation, Woodknowledge Wales, to act as advisors to the Partnership and to develop a three year all Wales RDP project which is expected to begin in Spring 2017. An early priority has been to develop the Powys Wood Encouragement Policy which is to be underpinned by an Action Plan to help turn aspiration into reality. This Wood Encouragement Policy took inspiration from a similar policy established in Victoria Australia, and has also built on the lesson from the Wood First policy pioneered in British Columbia and adopted by Wood for Good in the UK. The Powys Wood Encouragement Policy is currently in draft form but will hopefully be approved and adopted before the end of this year.

Woodknowledge Wales and the Home Grown Homes Partnership anticipate that the pioneering leadership shown in Powys will spread to other Local Authorities – with the ultimate hope that Welsh Government will create and implement an industrial strategy for wood. In that regard the Swiss Government Wood Resource Policy sets a precedent and provides a useful template to follow.

Arguably there has never been so much favourable policy to support an unflinching focus on development of Welsh timber industries. Leaving aside Brexit, three key current opportunities are:

  • The Climate Change Commission report following the historic Paris Agreement has, for the first time, described a target for creating a carbon store in construction by using timber. In short, if we want to both mitigate climate change and create new housing, then the material to use is wood.
  • A recent high level construction sector report – the so-called Farmer Review titled Modernise or Die – has not minced words about the future for construction in the UK. The review states that skills shortages demand that house building moves rapidly to pre-manufactured approaches. The report even recommends fiscal levers to drive this shift. The pre-eminent material for off-site construction is wood.
  • Equally, the aspirations of the ambitious piece of social legislation in Wales -the Well-being of Future Generations Act, must surely lead to policies to support the substantial and sustainable expansion of Welsh forest industries.

However, Woodknowledge Wales chief executive, Gary Newman believes that success of the Powys Wood Encouragement Policy is not simply in the hands of the public sector. Targeting optimum economic, social and environmental outcomes is not a pick and mix exercise and demands more than a change in the public policy. He believes that the construction industry needs to rise to the challenge and focus more upon quality, sustainability and productivity innovations to improve the cost and performance of new homes. Growers and processors should, amongst other things, seek to maximise the value and benefit of wood by following a cascade principle of use which targets higher value construction sawnwood first.

Simon Inkson, Head of Housing at Powys County Council and chair of the Home Grown Homes Partnership said:

‘Powys County Council is determined to develop innovative solutions to address the loss of young economically active households from our communities by creating jobs in the growth, harvesting, processing and manufacture of homes from natural timber resources grown in rural communities. The project will, by creating well paid employment opportunities, play a part in addressing rural poverty. In the medium to longer term substantial sums of public and private finance will be invested in the growth of the city-regions of Wales and beyond. This project provides an opportunity for rural areas to flourish as a result of this investment and ensure that rural communities remain vibrant places for people to live, work and play in. This project is a key element of our Housing Strategy and we will work with partners across Wales to support them in the same way.’

“This project has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

Cyllidwyd y prosiect hwn drwy Cymunedau Gwledig Llywodraeth Cymru – Rhaglen Datblygu Gwledig Cymru 2014-2020, a ariennir gan Lywodraeth Cymru a’r Gronfa Amaethyddol Ewrop ar gyfer Datblygu Gwledig”.