A comment by Gary Newman
Three months into the new legislative period, it’s time to look at the political implications for trees and timber of this year’s elections. With an effective majority, Labour now has a clear mandate to implement their stated commitments to forestry and timber. Which should mean a substantial increase in tree planting, a timber industrial strategy and the greater use of home-grown timber in social housing.
It’s easy to be cynical given past inertia, but I’m extremely optimistic about the next 5 years and here are three good reasons why:
1. The new climate change ‘super ministry’
Housing, forestry and other remits of Natural Resources Wales, building regulation and planning (and many other things besides) now fall within this ministry. This is an incredibly joined up approach. In 2013 I was part of a team advising Westminster on a forestry and timber development strategy and I witnessed first-hand the problem of the fragmented departmental nature of government. Climate change targets being held by one ministry, housing by another and forestry by another. Perhaps predictably nothing much came of it. However, with this new joined-up ‘super-ministry’ in Wales, the climate change minister does have the authority and means to drive change. Which leads me to the second reason to be optimistic – the ministers in charge.
2. Julie James MS and Lee Waters MS
If I could have picked two ministers from the previous administration to run the Climate change ministry, it would have been these two. Julie James has a clear and often expressed passion for forestry and timber construction and has been a big supporter of the Woodknowledge Wales agenda since our launch in 2016. I’m speculating but maybe Julie has been influenced by a period from her childhood living in Canada where she was surrounded by forests and presumably lived in a timber house.
And then there’s Lee Waters MS, her deputy. Lee has been a champion for the development of Foundational Economy thinking and doing. We set out the opportunity for trees and timber in the Foundational Economy agenda in our Serious About Green report. Within two months of the May election, Lee has thrown himself into the Welsh forestry and timber agenda. Which brings me to the third reason to be optimistic.
3. The Trees and Timber ‘Deep Dive’
Announced by Lee Waters in June and completed by 13th July, the ‘Trees and Timber Deep Dive’ was intense and exciting for all involved. It brought together stakeholders from the forestry and land-use sector including social housing experts and foundational economists. Nine 90-minute meetings, chaired by Lee Waters himself, took place over a three-week period. A series of round-tables ensured views and voices of other stakeholder groups (e.g. farmers, biodiversity NGOs and industry) were heard. Two additional meetings were scheduled to kick-off the development of the industrial strategy for timber, chaired by Foundational Economy champion and Serious about Green author, Karel Williams.
The result of this work is a verbal and written statement of intent in the Senedd. It provides the basis for the development of a purpose-driven Welsh wood economy starting now. We’re particularly pleased to see our work in the Home-Grown Homes Project getting a specific mention.
From words to action
Of course, we’re mindful of the fact that words do not plant trees, process timber or build homes. But it is clear to me, and hopefully others, that the joined-up Climate change super ministry is great news for forestry and timber and that Julie James and Lee Waters mean business.
The written statement includes both specific new policies as well as additional financial resources.
Its ‘call to arms’ and appeal to an ‘alliance for change’ makes me very confident that now is the time for us together with our growing and committed membership across the forestry, timber and housing supply chain to help turn political aspiration into tangible and lasting change.