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Timber producers call for more tree planting to boost construction sector

Ireland lags behind other countries on use of sustainable resource in building new homes, forestry industry chief says


Mark McAuley, director of Forest Industries Ireland. Photo: Tony Gavin

Mark McAuley, director of Forest Industries Ireland. Photo: Tony Gavin

Mark McAuley, director of Forest Industries Ireland. Photo: Tony Gavin

Timber producers are calling for a licensing overhaul to help boost the use of homegrown building materials, as global prices skyrocket due to the war in Ukraine.

Forest Industries Ireland, the Ibec group representing Irish producers, said increased tree planting could help boost Ireland’s housing stock while helping farmers offset carbon emissions.

The group is calling for the “abolition” of tree planting licences and changes to the building energy rating (BER) system to boost timber production and make it more attractive to the construction industry. Forest Industries Ireland director Mark McAuley told a webinar last week that Ireland lags behind other countries when it comes to the use of timber in housing.

“With timber, you have a building material that stores carbon rather than emits it,” he said.

“Carbon is locked away in the fabric of the building. It’s a ­virtuous circle.”

Irish timber prices were up 64.4pc year on year in February, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia is one of the world’s leading timber producers after China, the US and Canada.

The Construction Industry Federation has warned that “hyperinflation” in building materials such as steel and timber could lead to contractors pulling out of public projects such as the €165bn National Development Plan or Housing for All, which aims to build 300,000 homes between now and 2030.

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The Department of Agriculture intends to more than double afforestation licences this year, from just over 500 last year to 1,040.

John FitzGerald, a member of the Climate Change Advisory Council, told the webinar – which was organised by Ibec and the Royal Institute of Architects – that a “significant increase” in tree planting over the next 30 years could help remove up to 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

At current carbon prices, that could be worth more than €25bn to the Irish economy, he said.

“The economic value of this investment, and its favourable environmental impact, would be greatly enhanced if we move to using timber-frame methods of construction,” he said.

“Investment in forestry is one of the ways that we can both make the people of Ireland better off and produce a large reduction in Ireland’s net emissions of greenhouse gases.”

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