Timber Accelerator Hub

Timber Accelerator Hub – Launch of Phase 1 Report

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A new report published today by the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products (ASBP) sheds light on the major challenges faced by developers in their attempts to reduce carbon emissions in new building projects. It recommends a series of potential solutions that could unlock significant carbon savings through an increase in the use of mass timber.

About the Timber Accelerator Hub (TAH)

As the UK built environment sector seeks to transition towards greater use of timber and other bio-based materials to reduce the embodied carbon emissions of new buildings, major challenges are being experienced. These are leading developers, clients and their design and construction teams to turn back to more carbon intensive construction methods before the project starts on site.

Mass timber is an incredibly useful tool in the fight to mitigate climate change, but it is a tool which is currently unattainable for many. The TAH set out to change this.

The overarching aims of the project during the first phase of work:

Aim 1

Aim 2

Aim 3

To investigate in detail the major challenges preventing the wider adoption of mass timber across the UK; insurance, fire performance & the regulatory environment.

To establish the TAH as a network hub for key stakeholders to develop industry collaboration with the aim of overcoming these specific challenges.

 

To identify, initiate or support further work required to overcome these challenges.

Image credit: The Office Group

Stakeholder mapping

The second aim listed above, to establish the TAH as a network hub, represents the method by which the TAH hoped to achieve progress: by convening a collaborative network.

Led by the ASBP, the TAH has coordinated several working groups. Some groups are communities of interest, bringing one type of stakeholder together into a forum, such as insurers or developers. Other groups are comprised of multiple disciplines and intended for knowledge sharing from multiple perspectives. The TAH Steering Group for example brings together a representative cross section of industry – brokers, fire engineers, developers, structural engineers, quantity surveyor, sustainability experts, academia and timber associations.

The diagram below is an indicative representation of the wider UK mass timber ecosystem that the TAH sits within:

Key recommendations

Insurance

Establish a common approach to risk mitigation – Industry should establish engagement with the FPA & RISCAuthority, ideally through a ‘neutral’ organisation (i.e., not a timber body), towards the creation of a common approaches to risk mitigation for mass timber buildings. (i.e., a ‘mass timber playbook’).

Engagement with insurers – Industry should scale up engagement with property insurance underwriters and risk assessors through Timber Accelerator Hub & Gallagher’s ‘Mass Timber Property Insurance Forum’ to increase insurer confidence in mass timber through education and knowledge sharing. (see below)

Alternative Risk Transfer – Developers should strongly consider establishing Alternative Risk Transfer vehicles (i.e. a captive) as is currently being explored by Urban Strategy Lab, RISCS & Flaxman Partners & a number of private development companies.

Fire safety

Large scale testing – Industry, Government and funding bodies should provide resource towards developing a more robust evidence base to address prevailing fire safety concerns, such as OFR’s fully costed proposal, “Research questions on the path to mainstream adoption of mass timber in commercial construction.”

Policy

Consistent standards – Government should seek to provide clarity and consistency with regards to the position of mass timber construction in response to divergent standards, regulations and guidance.

Dedicated standards – Government should consider creating dedicated standards, regulations & statutory guidance to support the safe use of mass timber in all building types, including residential taller than 18m

Mass Timber Property Insurance Forum

Design

How to safely design a high rise Mass Timber building – A Case Study on Dalston Lane. Organised by Gallagher with presentations from, Andrew Waugh & David Lomax, Waugh Thistleton Architects and Alan Dowdall & Gavin White, Ramboll.

Fire safety

Fire safety in Mass Timber buildings, with presentations from Sam Liptrott, Director, OFR and Kelly Harrison, Whitby Wood.

Repairability

Repairability of Mass Timber structures. What happens when repairs are required to a mass timber structure following a fire or an escape-of-water situation? How is any damage remediated in these types of building, what are the impacts on structural performance and what proactive steps can be taken to ensure that the need for costly repairs is prevented in the first place? With presentations from Philip Zumbrunnen & Jonathan Fovargue, Eurban.

Durability

Durability of Mass Timber Structures. What proactive steps can be taken during the design and construction of Mass Timber buildings to safeguard the durability of the structural materials and prevent the need for costly repairs further down the line? With presentations from Andrew Lawrence, Director at Arup, and Sarah Wakley, Director of Leaksafe.

Comments from key stakeholders

“To create places that are truly fit for the future we need to think and act in a fundamentally different way across the built environment sector. We need to design innovatively to facilitate efficient assembly and disassembly of buildings, using a range of materials that can be used repeatedly, and ultimately recycled to eliminate waste. We must decarbonise ‘traditional’ materials such as concrete and steel, but we also need to accelerate the adoption of inherently low-carbon technologies such as engineered timber. And we need to collaborate, reflect and share lessons more proactively as we will only succeed if we learn together. The Timber Accelerator Hub plays a key role in facilitating this collaboration and shared learning.”

Mario Lara Ledermann, Lendlease

“The London insurance market is undoubtedly going through a hard market cycle, having enjoyed 10 to 15 years of favourable trading conditions. The result is a “flight to safety;” meaning that trying to bring “new” technologies and products to insurers in the current market cycle is significantly more challenging, and mass timber sits firmly in this category. Couple the above with a number of years in succession where insurers have made losses in the construction and property sectors, and rapidly introducing the large-scale adoption of mass timber creates understandable concern. That being said, huge progress has already been made, and the solutions are becoming clearer all the time; with quality, clear and open communication being at the heart. It is obvious that the expertise in the UK around mass timber and the quality of product being delivered is some of the best in the world, by some of the best in the world; the secret lies in how to both articulate and quantify this to insurers through common approaches. That is the key to unlocking greater acceptance and capacity.”

Dominic Lion, Associate Director - Real Estate, AJ Gallagher

“It appears there is currently a lack of confidence in certain elements of the construction industry generally, but especially towards mass timber construction. At the vanguard of the construction industry, however, there are extremely competent and visionary developers, designers and contractors who want to achieve net-zero in a safe and sustainable way. The question is whether there is enough time to let this knowledge cascade down to the whole industry, or whether a catalyst is needed. In my view, industry and government need to show courage and willingness to invest otherwise the industry will flounder in its critical pursuit of net zero. The obvious answer is to develop a rapid and extensive research programme to better understand innovative building materials and methods.”

Sam Liptrott, Director, OFR Consultants

Project information

The Timber Accelerator Hub (TAH) was established by the ASBP, with funding from the Laudes Foundation, Timber Development UK and Swedish Wood, to work with a network of key construction industry stakeholders to investigate current barriers and explore potential solutions.

The project has been steered by a wider group of leading practitioners & experts drawn from a number of key partner organisations, in addition to the three outlined above, acting in an advisory capacity; Wood Knowledge Wales, Structural Timber Association, Cambridge Centre for Natural Material Innovation, Lendlease, Chase Underwriting, Gallagher, Gardiner & Theobald, British Woodworking Federation & OFR Consultants.

We would like to thank all our partners for the time, expertise and energy given towards this project throughout the process.

‘Phase 1’ of the project, comprising the work described in this report, was carried out from November 2020 to February 2022.

Find out more

To find out more about the project, please contact Simon Corbey – simon@asbp.org.uk.

Please also sign up to our mailing list to keep up-to-date with the latest project updates.

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