CTI Blog

CTI Blog - If the PM is serious about solving the housing crisis, she must scrap Chequers & broker an improved deal that ensures timber can clear customs freely

This article is by Martin Whitfield, MP for East Lothian and Chair of the Timber Industries APPG

 

Earlier this month, Theresa May reaffirmed to the Conservative Party Conference her ‘personal mission’ to fix our housing crisis. Yet in the same speech, she reiterated her commitment to her Chequers Plan, which would crash the UK out of the Customs Union and Single Market after we leave the EU. In fact, the Chequers plan will fundamentally fail to retain any customs arrangements with the European Union. 
 
Without frictionless trade, I believe we face a clear challenge to build the number of homes the Prime Minister has committed to providing over this parliament.
 
This challenge exists because the supply of timber is essential to meeting housing demands. This sector, which contributes £10bn to the UK economy each year is still hugely reliant on trade with EU countries. Incredibly, 90% of the timber used to build homes in the UK is imported from across Europe. 
 
Whilst we do grow and harvest timber in this country, we simply don’t have enough to fill the void that will be left after Brexit. Even if we had the space, the time it takes to grow the trees does not meet the immediate housebuilding demands we face.  
 
Timber businesses across the country, including those in my own constituency of East Lothian, have strong relationships with several European countries and have built successful enterprises which employ over 200,000 people across the UK. This workforce is reliant on these imports. 

Our current relationship is remarkably simple; timber entering the UK from the EU clears ports immediately with no need for customs checks to be carried out. These materials are instantly available to be used or sold. Leaving the EU threatens the simplicity and efficiency of this arrangement. 
 
The realities of a poor deal or even no-deal after we leave is that these imports will be sitting in custom checks for weeks. A clear practical challenge which would face the industry is this; whilst the timber was being checked through customs, it could not be used or sold, and would need to be stored by the company. This is placing a significant logistical and financial burden on businesses, many of which are SMEs, many of which will not easily absorb these additional costs. 
 
Housebuilding and timber go hand in hand. The sector is already stepping up the challenge with new factories, skills-training and solutions. Current output stands at around 60,000 homes per year. This could grow to over 100,000 by 2020 using existing capacity. We have a great deal to be positive about within this sector, but the government is putting this progress at risk. 
 
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Timber Industries, I am going to make the case today that our housing needs are reliant on continued access to the Customs Union and Single Market. If the Prime Minister is serious about solving the housing crisis, she must start by scrapping Chequers and broker an improved deal that ensures timber can clear customs freely after we leave.

 

[News URL: http://cti-timber.org/content/cti-blog-if-government-wants-build-more-houses-it-needs-workable-brexit-deal]

CTI Blog - Positive steps forward on apprenticeships and housing in Autumn Budget 2018

This blog post is by Helen Hewitt, CTI Director and CEO fo British Woodworking Federation (BWF)

 

On 29th October 2018, the Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his Autumn 2018 Budget, the last before Brexit. We were pleased to see some positive measures which will help smaller businesses offer apprenticeships. The £695m initiative to reduce the cost of apprenticeship training for small businesses will halve the amount they have to contribute from 10% to 5%. UK’s SMEs are pivotal to the success of the apprenticeship scheme and this should go some way to resolving the growing skills gap in our sector and to help boost productivity.

Delivering a solution to end the UK’s housing crisis has long been on the political agenda and so we welcomed the Chancellor’s promise of a further £500m for the housing infrastructure fund to help build a further 650,000 homes. In addition, he pointed to strategic partnerships with 9 housing associations to “deliver 13,000 homes across England, up to £1bn pounds of British business bank guarantees, to support the revival of SME house builders.” On the surface, tapping into the potential of SME house builders to increase housing stock is a smart move. However, as we pointed out following the Spring statement, a successful housing strategy is not just about increasing supply. The fund now stands at £5.5bn, yet there was still no mention of an allocation to ensure that essential fire safety works required in existing social houses are paid for. So, the question still remains as to who will foot the bill.  

In more good news for house building, the importance of investing in our high streets with a £675 million Future High Streets Fund to allow councils to rejuvenate town centres could lead to benefits for members. With the Federation of Master Builders estimating last year that as many as 300,000 to 400,000 new homes alone could be created by making use of empty spaces above shops on our high streets, the Future High Streets Fund could be a further boost for residential accommodation.

The Chancellor pledged to publish a full response into the review of build out rates by Sir Oliver Letwin which concluded that large housebuilders are not engaged in ‘systematic speculative land banking.’ We welcome any move to reduce bureaucracy in the planning system and look forward to the Governments response to the recommendations.

The collapse of Carillion left many wondering what the impact on subcontractors would be and called for a review of public sector construction contracts. Some clarity came on Monday when it was announced that public private partnerships will soon be no more with PFI and PF2 contracts abolished. Existing contracts under the PFI and PF2 system will be honoured but no new ones will be signed and a “centre of excellence” will be set up to manage the remaining contracts, worth approximately £200bn. However, more clarity is still required around how a new model will work to ensure that the infrastructure this country requires continues to be built.

 

[News URL: http://cti-timber.org/content/cti-blog-positive-steps-forward-apprenticeships-and-housing-autumn-budget-2018]

CTI Blog - Debate on combustible cladding ban is still open, despite inflated political statements

This blog post is by CTI Director and TTF Managing Director David Hopkins

 

As I am sure you are aware, this week at the Conservative Party Conference, Housing Secretary James Brokenshire made the following statement:

“Combustible cladding is to be banned for all new schools, hospitals, care homes, student accommodation and residential buildings in England above 18m.  

The ban, which follows a lengthy government consultation, will cover all combustible materials, including cladding, on new buildings. However, it will not be applied retrospectively where materials have already been fitted. The new ban will be implemented through changes to building regulations to be brought forward in late autumn.” [Read more]

The TTF laid out its response to the Govt consultation on combustible materials via the CTI [See response HERE] While we can understand the need to introduce a ban over 18 metres, we still believe this will solve nothing without enforcement. The materials used in Grenfell did not pass the current regulations, yet were still used. Introducing tougher regulations, such as a ban, will only work if these regulations are enforced.

Our bigger worry is that the rhetoric from this approach effectively bans the use of timber at lower levels and on buildings below 18 metres. This will come via changes in the Building Regulations. However, the new ban is still subject to further consultation, so there is no immediate change, nor would they be applied retrospectively.

TTF is working with all industry partners across the supply chain – WPA, BWF, STA and TRADA – on a range of projects to help inform this debate, including a public affairs campaign. This is putting us in active, ongoing dialogue with all key Ministerial departments as well as key local authority stakeholders such as GLA and Local Government Association, to ensure our voice is heard in this debate.

We will continue to lobby for the acceptance of timber as a vital structural and cladding material as per our consultation response. There is still a lot of work to do as the argument is far from being resolved. Ministers often make over inflated statements at party conference, but this does not mean the policy is enacted quite as described.

We will keep you updated on progress and lay out more detailed information as to what we are doing as a joined up industry supply chain to help ensure we keep growing the market for timber.

 

[News URL: http://cti-timber.org/content/cti-blog-debate-combustible-cladding-ban-still-open-despite-inflated-political-statements]