Enjoy a recovering market

Published:  25 November, 2014

A major upturn in the construction industry has seen demand for timber grow to its highest level in five years. Stephen King, commercial director of SCA Timber Supply and president of the Timber Trade Federation, reflects on a busy six months for the sector.

Timber and panel products imported to the UK recorded an increase in April 2014 for the tenth month running, figures released last month by the Timber Trade Federation (TTF) show, largely because of increased demand from the construction industry.

Import volumes for the first four months of this year were around a fifth higher than in 2013, and it’s fair to say that the timber market is a good reflection of the general state of the UK economy and how it is recovering.

Government support through schemes such as Help to Buy, combined with low interest rates, has made a real difference to the private housebuilding sector and new housing has outstripped all other sectors in terms of growth. In fact, official data shows a 38% increase in the number of housing starts during the first quarter of this year.

On the domestic front, machined softwood sales have remained strong thanks to demand from homeowners for garden decking and associated timber products. It seems the summer of sport, including the World Cup and Commonwealth Games, have failed to dent demand from the DIY enthusiast.

It’s fair to say that the weather has also played its part in the recovery. The tide really turned in the autumn of last year and we generally enjoyed a very mild winter. This has been followed by some very warm and dry weather which has helped the construction industry and seen a rise in general repair and maintenance work. Even the storms of last winter helped create their own spike in demand. In fact, such was the demand for new fencing panels that suppliers couldn’t keep up. British sawmills were under extreme pressure and the shortage in supply made national news headlines.

Here at SCA Timber, we are very conscious of the need for a reliable supply chain. We know that builders are always in a hurry so we have put a lot of effort into supporting our builders’ merchants this year and we are proud of the fact that we are in control of our supply chain from seedlings in the forests of Northern Sweden – our main source of raw material – to the finished product.

CE marking

As a responsible and ethical supplier, we are working to help merchants conform to new regulations such as CE marking, which came into force on 1 July this year governing the sale of agricultural buildings. The ruling came after the collapse of old agricultural buildings in Scotland, Wales and the North of England under heavy snow loads during the winter of 2009. We made sure we were ahead of the game by going through the accreditation process in advance and helping builders’ merchants, such as Mole Valley Farmers in North Devon, achieve the new quality standard along with FSC accreditation so that they can continue to supply organisations including local authorities and the National Trust.

We have invested in the very latest sawmill technology and pay particular attention to any products concerned with safety. Our fire door linings and casings, for instance, are all made to ensure that the door assembly design is properly fire resistant and that all the components work when used in combination.

The recent Fire Door Safety Week, which took place on 15 to 21 September, was created to raise awareness of the importance of proper fire doors. The brainchild of the British Woodworking Federation, it came about because the old practise of `knocking up` fire door frames, hanging a fire door and believing that the results constituted a valid fire door installation was never correct and undoubtedly placed property, and even lives, at risk. We stress the importance of using fire door frames produced by a BWF-CERTIFIRE approved manufacturer, such as ourselves.

As the timber market has improved, companies including SCA have seen better trading conditions as an opportunity to reinvigorate their offering to the builders’ merchant sector. As part of our ongoing commitment, we have improved our product range, appointed a new quality assurance manager and invested in a new brochure detailing the full range of machined softwood, MDF, structural timber, sheet materials and decking products.

John Buffel has been appointed as our new quality assurance manager covering all three SCA sites in Welshpool, Stoke and Hull. We have also appointed a quality assurance co-ordinator in addition to quality control co-ordinators at each of our three sites.

Our aim is to meet growing demand by delivering the best mix of wood-based products backed up by the right knowledge and information to our customers.

This article first appeared in the September 2014 issue of Builders' Merchants News.

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