Environment Secretary visits Stirling manufacturer to hear challenges facing UK wood basket
Secretary of State for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, met with one of the UK’s leading wood panel producers to hear about the challenges they’re facing sourcing their main raw material.
Mr Gove was given a guided tour of Norbord’s operations in Cowie, Stirlingshire, accompanied by local MP Stephen Kerr, who also chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the wood panel industry.
Norbord and other leading manufacturers who are members of the Wood Panel Industries’ Federation (WPIF) have warned that a major government rethink is required to help the industry satisfy demand for its products, in order to secure thousands of jobs and help the UK face up to its housing crisis.
A recent report carried out on behalf of the APPG for the wood panel industry, involving former Energy Minister, the Rt Hon Brian Wilson, concluded that wood availability will decrease dramatically within the next decade.
The strain on the UK’s wood basket is being exacerbated by renewable energy subsidies and is creating real uncertainty for wood panel manufacturers while endangering the supply of key materials in the construction and house building sectors.
Steve Roebuck, Director of Environmental, Health and Safety at Norbord, said: “I’m very pleased that Mr Gove took time to visit our site and listen to Norbord’s concerns. He certainly took on board our message that the UK’s wood supply is now at a critical point due to demand from heavily subsidised biomass for energy.
“We’re not against the use of wood for energy, but continuing to use subsidy to drive wood towards energy is putting undue pressure our domestic wood supply. This threatens industries, such as construction and furniture manufacture, which rely on wood panels and sequester carbon for generations.
“The APPG expert working group report concludes that removing the subsidies which cover woody biomass would create a competitive, free market for all wood users competing for a finite resource base. The equalisation of the market would be the most desirable for wood panel manufacturers and would place all wood users on a level playing field.
“A point that I think all parties agree on is the pent-up demand in the requirement for low cost affordable housing.
“If you’re not going to have wood panels manufactured in the UK, you’re going to import them, and you’re not going to make them out of steel, so this is a critical area that everybody is agreeing on – we have to build those houses and, to build those houses, you need wood-based panels. That’s 50 per cent of our business.”
Stephen Kerr, MP for Stirling and Chair of the APPG for the wood panel industry and expert working group, added: “I’m pleased Michael was able to visit a major contributor to the local and national economy.
“I have the privilege of chairing the APPG for the wood panel industry, a sector which 7,500 British jobs are directly supported by. In my own constituency alone, 250 jobs are created and sustained by the Norbord plant directly, with another 250 employed by local supply chain partners indirectly.“The wood panel manufacturing industry is a UK success story, with a contribution to the economy in excess of £850m per annum and an ability to meet 65% of the UK demand for wood panel products.“This industry has the capability to increase production to meet the UK's demand for wood panel products and to do so with no reliance on imports of wood from elsewhere in the world. However, this is only possible if it has enough wood to sustain and grow its manufacturing capability.”