Sawmill argues for 'wood-first' policy

CATHERINE HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 18/03/2014

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A $120 million "super-mill" is waiting on whether political opinion endorses a "wood-first" policy for government buildings.

Red Stag Timber, the country's largest independent sawmill, near Rotorua, wants to build and own what would be New Zealand's first super-mill, but says the policy would be crucial to its success.

A wood-first policy would encourage the use of wood as a primary material in new government buildings of up to four storeys.

In supporting documents, wood-first advocates estimate the policy could attract $500m of investment, create 2020 new jobs and boost annual exports by $275m.

Pro-wood policies have already been embraced in Canada, Japan, France and Finland and are being pushed by forest contractors in Australia.

Labour's forestry spokesman Shane Jones has previously flagged support for a wood-first policy, and the party is expected to release its forestry policy at the industry's Forestwood conference tomorrow.

But Associate Minister for Primary Industries Jo Goodhew says at present a preference for wood above other materials is not on the Government's agenda.

"I am open to hearing ideas, but at this stage I am not convinced that a policy directive from the Government to require a timber option for all tenders on buildings is the most appropriate way to encourage the use of timber," she said.

However, Red Stag Timber boss Martin Verry said the industry was hopeful of a U-turn as wood gained greater acceptance on environmental grounds.

"We are anticipating a change of view on this because it's starting to become more prevalent internationally."

Verry said a wood-first policy would inject investment into a range of new and existing processing plants that were now unviable because of New Zealand's small domestic market and boom-bust cycle.

They were likely to include lamination plants, sawmills, cross laminated timber, bioenergy, biodiesel, and heavily boost the downstream woodchip industry.

The super-mill alone would result in $100m increased revenue, $30m in extra export earnings and an additional 500,000 tonnes of logs being processed rather than exported, he said.

Sawmillers are under pressure as they compete on the price for logs with eager Chinese and Asian buyers.

Industry players believe that more wood should be processed before it leaves the country, but they need more investment.

Scientists estimate that at present New Zealand processors are recovering about 55 per cent of a log whereas Chinese processors are recovering 70 per cent.

Wood industry players believe investment would be easier to get if the industry had a headstart with the Government procurement programme.

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Late last year Verry expressed fears that hundreds of Housing Corp houses could go to tenderers using pre-fabricated steel-framed houses from China.

A wood-first policy in Christchurch would makes sense, given the University of Canterbury is the seat of some of the country's best research into quake-proof materials and laminated timber products.

- BusinessDay

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