In northern Italy, Cromwell Property Group is developing wooden logistics buildings, which we believe will create an important case study to help inform the industry about the benefits of using timber.

Florian Hoyndorf

Florian Hoyndorf

Timber buildings are a viable solution for all property types in the UK and Europe to help mitigate climate change and provide performance benefits to investors, developers and occupiers.

Northern Italy was chosen as a pilot region because it is relatively close to the mountains and to Austria, where there is wood available and an established wood industry. As a first step, we are aiming to develop a hybrid building comprising concrete columns with a wooden roof and facade.

Using timber as a construction material has its challenges, not least that many construction techniques and regulations are predicated on using concrete and steel.

Consequently, there are three factors that currently make wood more expensive. First, construction companies are not used to using wood and charge more, despite the fact that the cost of wood is similar to concrete and to steel.

Second, insurance premiums are currently higher in comparison to a more traditional building. This is not necessarily due to the perceived risk and nature of timber itself but rather a lack of available data. And it is a myth that wooden buildings are a fire hazard – mass timber is far more fire resistant than steel.

The third factor is location. To develop with wood, you need to be close to forests or factories where they produce the engineered timber that is used in construction. Central and northern Europe are the best areas for development at the moment, but that will change when different ways to transport wood are developed.

For example, different forms of wood, such as bricks made from sawdust and more prefabricated building parts, are easier to transport. Likewise, as more forests are planted, the number of timber factories will increase. We will also see new hybrid materials such as concrete made of wood pieces instead of sand and stones and other bio-engineered products that help us redefine an industry that historically lags in innovation.

The timber market is growing markedly. Europe’s forestry stock has increased by 10% since 1990, with Finland, Sweden and Austria totalling one third of the stock, while the European engineered-timber construction market has been growing by €5bn (£4.4bn), or 8%, a year and is forecast to accelerate to €10bn (£8.8bn) a year by 2030.

Current construction methods use carbon-intensive materials such as concrete, bricks and steel. The embodied carbon of these materials is responsible for around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In contrast, timber buildings generate lower energy consumption and 20% lower carbon emissions over a building’s lifecycle compared with concrete-framed construction; they are 25% faster to construct than concrete; and for those worrying about the chopping down of trees, the average growth speed of 2.75 cubic metres per second for timber across Austria’s forests means that a 5,000 sq m (53,819 sq ft) warehouse would be regrown in about nine minutes.

Florian Hoyndorf is head of development, Europe, at Cromwell Property Group