Top lawyer says that council could find it’s planning decisions questioned by proponents of other materials

Timber frame of iCon

Hackney council’s proposal to use its planning system to promote timber buildings will leave its planning decisions open to challenge, according to aleading construction lawyer.

Building revealed last week that the east London borough wants to become the first local authority in the country to create a “presumption in favour” of using timber following the launch of lobby group Wood for Good’s ‘wood first’ campaign.

But David Savage, head of construction at law firm Charles Russell, said proponents of other materials such as concrete have grounds to challenge planning decisions made on this basis.

“If a public authority were to favour one construction material over others, it would run serious risk of challenge to its planning decisions,” he told Building.

“Equally, it would be wrong always to equate timber construction with ‘sustainable development’ and to infer that construction using other materials is less sustainable or unsustainable. 

“For example, the concrete industry has strong and developing sustainability credentials and would be well-placed to challenge timber on a range of criteria - including local sourcing rather than reliance on imports.”

Both the trade body Modern Masonry Alliance and development organisation the Concrete Centre condemned Hackney’s plans as ill-considered this week, with the former claiming the council had ignored the effect of such a policy on “indigenous trades” such as brick and block work.

The NHBC Foundation also questioned the proposed policy.

In a letter to this week’s Building, research manager at the foundation Neil Smith, cited a report published last October on embodied carbon.

“Based on modelling undertaken by BRE, no significant differences emerged between masonry and timber construction in terms of overall CO2 impact over the 60- and 120-year study periods,” he wrote.

However, senior policy adviser at the UK Green Building Council, Jo Wheeler, gave Hackney’s approach a cautious welcome.

“Of course sustainable timber is a great material but it is important that the policy maintains flexibility,” she said.