Timber supply catches up with construction demand

Image: Dreamstime/Yevhenii Chulovskyi

Timber supply has finally caught up with UK construction demand but shortages of HGV drivers could still cause problems with delivery.

That’s according to the Timber Trade Federation (TTF), which said that record imports and record domestic production amid shortages meant that more stability should return to the UK market over the coming months.

The TTF reported that more than seven million cum of timber and panel products were imported by the UK between January and July 2021.

The figure was nearly two million cum above the same period in 2020, and 500,000 cum above 2019 levels – the UK’s last ‘regular year’ before covid-19 – which is about an 8% increase.

Timber prices, and structural softwood in particular, have seen rapid price increases as a result of high demand from the RM&I sector and private housing markets following the coronavirus lockdowns. The TTF said the average price of sawn and planed softwood in May, June and July rose by 55%, 65% and 88% respectively over their corresponding months in 2020.

But Nick Boulton, TTF head of technical and trade, said supplies were now increasing. He said: “After a year of record production and nine months of near record structural softwood imports it is highly likely the UK is at a point where there is sufficient volume of wood at UK ports and in the UK timber supply chain to satisfy construction demand.

“With Q3 now behind us, which we viewed as a real pressure point this year between supply and demand for timber products, we expect that over the coming months we will find there is greater stability within the UK market.

“However we are not yet out the woods as any return to ‘regular’ patterns within the UK market will be difficult amid the ongoing shortage of HGV drivers, and in fuel and labour, which are likely to continue to impact the market in the coming months.

Boulton added: “These shortages are of high concern to the timber supply chain as while there may now be enough timber in the UK to meet demand it does little good to anyone when there are no means to transport stock from ports to warehouses or customers.

“The challenges posed by these shortages are being felt right across the UK economy, and as discussed in our Market Statement, you can view their impact in the latest statistics coming out from the construction sector with growth shown to be tailing off in June and July.

“Despite these challenges, we are confident the timber supply chain can continue to rise to meet the growing demand for sustainable, low-carbon construction materials we are seeing in the market – as it has done so for the past 20 months.”

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