Timber in construction is not just safe – it could save the planet

There is no scientific basis for the government’s ban on combustible material – but there is for climate change

Nobody thinks that fire safety is unimportant – particularly in the timber industry. But the government’s ban on combustible materials (a reaction to the tragic fires at Grenfell) misses its mark. And in doing so, it could do the country a great deal of damage.

This legislation was brought in at the end of 2018 by then-housing secretary James Brokenshire, and banned all combustible materials (including timber) on new homes above 18 metres. Roughly one year later, housing secretary Robert Jenrick called for this threshold to be lowered to “at least” 11 metres. What’s the problem with this? There’s no scientific evidence whatsoever that such a ban will help to save lives.

What there is scientific evidence for is wood’s value in the fight against climate change. Restricting the use of timber on multi-story buildings to below 11 metres presents an enormous barrier to the sustainable evolution that construction is undergoing. Indeed, when discussing the government’s net zero carbon commitment, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the timber industries said: “without using safe structural timber we cannot meet these targets.”

The irony in the government’s ban is that it is meant to save lives – but all the evidence suggests it will do the opposite. Because, while timber can fit inside a fire safety framework, there is no doubt that climate change is a huge threat to us all.

Andrew Waugh, an architect who is amongst those that work with timber and want to challenge the government ban, explained earlier this year: “The reality is the evidence says we’ve got 12 years left to sort out climate change – we’ve got to start changing the way we do things. And we’ve got to keep pushing the message about the safety of CLT. It’s not only quicker to put up; it’s safer, healthier, lighter and locks away carbon.”

Opposition to the ban is widespread amongst the timber industry, which is calling for an objective scientific investigation into the matter. In the meantime, do please remember to reassure your customers that, when used correctly, wood is a very safe material – and one which just might save the planet.

If you’re interested in discussing timber options for an upcoming project, or if you already know exactly what you need, give Quercus a call on 0845 50 50 311.