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Gaining added value for timber in Europe

Gaining added value for timber in Europe, Wales.

GATE is a European project looking to increase the use of timber for construction. The Forestry Commission Wales led project aims to build new markets for timber in Europe, adding value to the forests and woodlands.

The challenge for the five partner regions – Wales, Thuringia (Germany), Polorskie (Poland), Slovenia and Estonia – is to change the perception of timber as a traditional, old fashioned building material and persuade architects, planners and buyers to put more beautiful wood into new buildings.

"GATE is all about exchange of experience and best practice and we do this through focus groups, inter-regional seminars and exchange visits. Each of our seminars are arranged around a general theme that has historically held people back from using timber for construction – fire safety, costs, technical issues, perceptions.

We hold focus group meetings prior to the seminars to work out the content and format of the seminar. These are much smaller affairs than the seminars and usually consist of less than a dozen participants, made up of both partners and stakeholders. We recently held a focus group at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia with a group made up of designers, architects, university lecturers and business owners. The theme of the seminar was to look at technical issues – using local timber, affordable housing, wood durability etc.

Our field visit day included a visit to a sawmill producing round wood, sawn wood and laminated beams. We saw glulam being produced on a small scale. Their small capacity means that they have more flexibility than larger mills, with the ability to take on special orders and are very competitive on price and delivery times. Their one press can accommodate beams of varying length.

We also visited the kitchen showroom and looked at a variety of solid wood and laminated cabinets. We then climbed a tower constructed with 60 cubic metres of laminated spruce beams, treated for fire resistance. The stairs and flooring were made from 125 cubic metres of larch. In the afternoon we looked at the manufacture of small solid wood houses, mainly used for holiday homes as well as summer houses, garden sheds, pergolas etc.

In all, the group found it very interesting to see how timber is used in a different country and to consider how technical issues can be overcome and designs improved."

The future

"Timber is a truly flexible building material which can cut construction times, provide major energy conservations and sustainability benefits – and produce stunningly attractive new buildings."

"We hope that once GATE comes to an end in September 2007, the work that we and all the partner regions have done to increase the use of timber in construction and share best practice will continue. We will be hosting a closing conference in Wales in 2007 but we are meeting in Lille before the end of 2006 to look now at how stakeholder networks can continue after the project is closed."