Wienerberger responds to UK Green Building Council’s ‘Wood First’ event on Tuesday 22nd January

“With no panel member to represent masonry, a fair comparison of the merits of timber and brick construction was difficult.”

Wienerberger, the provider of wall, roof and landscaping innovations, has issued a response to the debate that took place on Tuesday night. The discussion focused on the ‘Wood First’ policy implemented (and since retracted) by Hackney Council, and covered the sustainability implications of various building materials and the role of the planner in specifying materials.


Having attended the debate, Annette Forster, Director of Marketing at Wienerberger, commented:


“It’s good that the UK-Green Building Council (UK-GBC) is encouraging debate in relation to the sustainability merits of various construction methods and materials. However, on this occasion we felt that masonry was under-represented, which had the effect of skewing the parameters of the discussion. With no-one on the panel with a significant background in that area of construction, it meant that it was difficult to create a genuine balance and comparison between the merits of timber cladding or timber frame construction and that of bricks or other materials. We also do not think that it is appropriate for Planning Authorities to take a position on promoting the use of one type of construction material in preference to another.  We now understand that Hackney Borough Council has recognised this and has reversed its previous position on “Wood First”.  We welcome this development if it proves to be correct.”


John Sandford, Wienerberger’s Sustainability Director, added:

“The sustainability credentials of different building materials must be considered on their merits for the specific application. Some of the debate did not take into account wider perspectives. For example, a brick-built construction would offer far greater longevity (up to 150-200 years) and far less maintenance, which is surely a factor that is relevant to this debate – and yet it was not one fully explored by the panel. Likewise, endorsing timber construction rather ignores the undiscussed, but ultimately crucial, issue of consumer choice and preference. We are very concerned about the growing misconception that timber cladding can be considered as an effective substitute for clay masonry. This is not appropriate given the climate in the UK.  BRE guidance suggests that timber cladding will require treatment at least every seven years and may have a realistic service life of around 30 years. This bears no comparison with clay masonry that has a proven service life of more than 150 years and requires little or no maintenance. This conclusion was not challenged by David Hopkins, the panel member representing “Wood for Good”. Clay masonry also improves from an aesthetic point of view as it ages.


We agree that development of an improved methodology for environmental assessment of construction materials is necessary. We fully support the development of EN 15804 and related Environmental Product Declarations but feel that we are, unfortunately, still some way from a fully harmonised system. Not least, this will only come to pass when there is a consensus between the different providers of life cycle assessment methodologies. Until then, different material producers will continue to provide data on life cycle impacts that are not directly comparable. I do think the issue of sustainability in construction is a much broader subject that must be explored fully.”


Another of the event’s attendees, Mike Leonard, CEO of the Modern Masonry Alliance, echoed many of Annette and John’s concerns in regard to the nature of the debate.


“It was unfortunate that the UK-GBC should choose to host a debate about Local Authorities preferring one building material over another without a representative of the masonry industry on the panel, given that brick and block construction accounts for 90% of the housing market in England and is the first choice of 93% of homeowners.”


He continued:

“In particular, I think some of the wider implications of timber frame and its performance were not fully considered. Importing timber from Canada, Scandinavia and Russia at the expense of UK jobs and our indigenous brick and block manufacturing industry will impact on the economic success of UK PLCs. It will also cost more and, as Annette said, give far less longevity than a brick and block structure. Put simply we would be getting less for more, which is not a sustainable strategy. We are delighted that Hackney has recognised this and will now operate a level playing field. We have the right to expect impartiality from our democratically elected Local Authorities.”

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