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Global timber shortage hits housebuilders hard

Global timber shortages have put the UK housebuilding industry’s supply chain in the eye of a perfect storm – with faltering availability and rapidly rising costs of basic materials such as roofing batten, presenting a serious challenge to the housebuilding industry – and one they must face and deal with together.

The National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC), Avonside Group (including Avonside Roofing), Marley and SR Timber are seeing the impact that shortages are having on the industry. It is fuelling steep and rapid cost inflation for roofing contractors, who are unable to pass the costs on to their customers.

For roofing contractors, the biggest impacts are on cost and productivity. Delays in supplies of materials such as batten present a real and serious risk to housebuilders’ production schedules, the financial impact of which can be severe. However, the cost of avoiding such delays within the supply chain can itself be significant.

Avonside Group’s CEO Eddie Stanton said: “The price of roofing batten is rising on a monthly basis, already in excess of 50% over the past six months, and supply lead times are getting longer. This is putting enormous pressure on the housebuilding supply chain, especially roofing contractors, in terms of what price increases they can absorb and what they have to pass on.”

Marley’s Roof Systems Director Stuart Nicholson said: “The global/US pressure of increased demand for timber has exacerbated the supply issues caused by the pandemic and Brexit. Therefore, it remains extremely challenging to secure the raw materials needed to produce and supply finished products. Marley has strong relationships and a robust supply chain with more than 60 timber mills. However, even considering this, current demand levels are outstripping supply. This is having a severe knock-on effect on global softwood timber prices, which are constantly increasing.

“Those in the UK supply chain are working hard to secure increased supplies of raw materials and finished products. It is important to work collaboratively, with housebuilders engaging with their suppliers and subcontractors to understand the challenges and to plan ahead.”

SR Timber’s Trading Director Shaun Revill said: “We’re in the very fortunate position of having our own dedicated sawmill in the Baltics, which means we have our own robust supply chain – but even that has been tested to the limit recently with Brexit and COVID, and we are not insulated from what’s going on globally.

“We have been very proactive and transparent with our customers and given them lots of information to explain the situation regarding stock availability – which currently has a lead time of around ten days – and price movements. This has been well received when you put it into context that the industry hasn’t seen anything like this since World War II.”

James Talman, Chief Executive of the NFRC, said: “We are currently seeing unprecedented shortages of roofing materials, in particular timber. This is due to a whole host of different reasons, from COVID-19 restrictions to the impact of low US timber supplies. Our data shows that two-thirds of roofing contractors saw material availability deteriorate in the first quarter of the year, and 89 per cent reported price rises. Timber battens were the second-highest material shortage after roof tiles with a third of contractors reporting shortages. Unsurprisingly, this is the top concern for roofing contractors – above COVID and Brexit.

“Whilst our supplier members are doing all they can to alleviate shortages, it will still be some time before we are back to steady levels of supply, and homebuilders therefore need to work collaboratively with roofing contractors to plan ahead, build in lead times, factor in price rises and ensure flexibility in contracts.”

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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