Image: courtesy of Lyn Dafis/flickr.com (licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A comment by Gary Newman 

I’ve trawled through the manifestos and tried to make sense of what might happen during the next term of the Welsh Government. I’m told that the manifestos are important as they are the one thing politicians can be held to account on and that the civil service are tasked to deliver. So, they’re pretty important documents, if a little hard to unpick as I’ve discovered.

On Net Zero Carbon

I believe that ambitious policies to achieve net zero carbon will be good for trees and timber in construction – two critically important greenhouse gas removal (GGR) mechanisms identified by the UK Committee on Climate Change. Both Labour and Conservatives are sticking to the 2050 legally binding UK Government target. However, Plaid Cymru has announced a highly ambitious target of Wales becoming net zero carbon by 2035, only five years after the Green Party’s target of 2030. In a Labour/Plaid coalition or ‘confidence and supply agreement’ things could get very interesting, as 2035 requires much greater urgency in action.

On Low Carbon Housing

All the political parties have key policies around low carbon housing. Labour’s target for the next term is for 20,000 new low carbon social homes ‘creating thousands of jobs in a low carbon house building revolution’. And here’s the biggy for wood – these homes will be…

 ‘built in the right way using materials with low levels of embodied carbon, such as timber, and specifically Welsh timber, creating a timber based industrial strategy that can develop and sustain the high value production and processing of Welsh wood. This will take us further in tackling fuel poverty, create sustainable jobs and provide research and training opportunities.’

In my view, this will massively raise the importance of wood within Welsh Government and start to put wood where it belongs – in the economic, manufacturing and industrial portfolios of government.

Plaid Cymru don’t mention supporting the use of timber per se, but their target for the number of new social homes is considerably more ambitious than Labour’s at 50,000. Commensurate with Plaid’s more ambitious net zero aspirations, they describe homes being low carbon in operation and construction. So, embodied carbon reduction regulation can be expected to be introduced by Plaid Cymru as well as Labour and this will further increase the demand for low carbon materials such as timber

The Conservatives have a less ambitious target of 100,000 homes over the next 10 years of which 40,000 will be social homes.

On trees and forestry

Here, the standout policy is in Plaid Cymru’s manifesto with a target (I know we’ve seen lots of those over the years) which involves planting 100,000 hectares of mixed woodland per decade in Wales, resulting in a total increase of 300,000 hectares by 2050. This is a massive increase in the scale of Welsh forestry and effectively doubles Wales’ forest cover.

Labour is more comfortable with industrial policy and has steered clear of planting targets per se. The party trumpets the National Forest, which is great for amenity and creates a fantastic opportunity to inform Welsh society about the importance of trees, but will do little for timber supply and little to support the decarbonisation agenda.

The Conservatives pledge to plant at least 8 million trees a year, to soak up around half a million tonnes of C02 a year, whilst also reducing flood risks. Assuming this commitment relates to new woodland, this equals about 3,000 hectares per year. This is higher than the current (but missed) 2,000 hectares per year target of the outgoing administration but substantially below Plaid Cymru’s commitment.

On the Foundational Economy

The economy in general is a big focus in all manifestos. Surprisingly, given that the foundational economy is perceived to be a Labour Party ‘brand’, it is mentioned more times in the Plaid Cymru manifesto. Maybe that’s because supporting and focusing on the development of the Foundational Economy is now beginning to be seen as common sense and supported by all. Having said that, developing the Foundational Economy needs to inspire more creative and effective policy than the failed ‘postcode localism’ that has informed public procurement to date.

In Conclusion

If we get another Labour Government, I think the use of timber in construction will be well supported. The promised industrial policy may help to sort out their previous failure in terms of a lack of purpose and delivery in their afforestation strategy. Having said that, I saw nothing in any of the manifestos that gave me encouragement to believe that any of the political parties have got their head around the challenge of land use change.

Taken as a whole, perhaps the best outcome overall would be a Labour/Plaid Cymru coalition with an agreement to target zero carbon by 2035 (Plaid), deliver 50,000 new low carbon social homes (Plaid) and create an industrial strategy for timber (Labour), a doubling of the forest cover by 2050 (Plaid) and a more imaginative approach to the development of the Foundational Economy in Wales.

See also