Panels made of Welsh wood at a factory in Bala were lifted into place at a groundbreaking building development – raising the prospect of a multi-million pound boost to local sawmills and the timber frame construction industry.
Mill owners and timber business representatives were among those who gathered at Coed-y-Brenin Forest Park to examine the innovative technique being used to build the state-of-the-art extension to the park’s popular visitor centre.
The new-to-Wales Brettstapel construction system, developed by the Woodknowledge Wales initiative with private sector partners, is set to transform the prospects for wood using industries in Wales by unlocking the potential for construction using Welsh timber.
Pochin Construction will build the £1.2 million visitor centre extension, which will be the first Brettstapel structure to be built in the United Kingdom using home-grown wood instead of timber imported from Austria or Germany, where the technique was invented.
The Brettstapel panels, which are made from visually graded softwood timber held together with hardwood dowels, were built by Bala-based Williams Homes using Sitka Spruce and Douglas Fir supplied by Pontrilas Sawmills on the Wales-England border.
John Taylor, Forestry Commission Wales Recreation Manager at Coed-y-Brenin Forest Park, said, “This is the first time in the United Kingdom that home-grown timber is being used structurally in this way.
“This is a real breakthrough moment for Welsh businesses working with wood and could open up exciting new markets for timber at a time when many rural enterprises are struggling to make ends meet.”
This new use for Welsh timber could be good news for everybody in the supply chain, from the forester cutting down the trees to the companies making the Brettstapel panels, said John.
“It will provide job security for foresters because this grade of timber has, in the past, only been used for cladding, fencing or pallets, it’s good for the sawmills as they can kiln dry timber for the Brettstapel market, and it’s good for the frame builders and the construction industry because the system is very simple and does not require huge investment. An average joiner with planer molder can make a Brettstapel panel.”
The extension, which is due for completion by June 2013, was designed by Architype.
The building employs many principles of Passivhaus, a rigorous German energy standard which achieves energy conservation via an “insulated envelope”, high levels of air tightness and mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR), as opposed to heating an energy inefficient building with large amounts of renewable fuels to achieve the same low carbon emission rating.
High performance triple glazed timber windows will also be manufactured and supplied by Williams Homes.
The project forms part of the Gwynedd Council-led Eryri Centre of Excellence partnership, which is part-funded by the EU’s Convergence European Regional Development Fund through Visit Wales and the Welsh Government.
Additional funding towards the project comes from Forestry Commission Wales, Gwynedd Council, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and Tourism Partnership Mid Wales.
Members of the Woodknowledge Wales steering group, who include representatives of major timber frame and joinery companies, the Director of the Building Research Establishment (BRE) Wales, leading architects and a member of the Design Council, were given a tour of the site by Pochin’s Site Manager, Stuart Gaylard-Rees.
He said, “The Brettstapel product is a sustainable and highly productive form of construction. All the panels are pre-fabricated off site and delivered in easily manageable sizes. This eliminates any waste and allows for a swift and safe construction method.
"The finished panels are very versatile as a variety of different finishes can be used or the panel itself can also be the finished product.
"Compared to my experience with traditional timber frame construction, I am very impressed with the thermal properties, the ability to use local, low grade timber to manufacture the panels, the improved healthy indoor environment provided by the panels (due to lack of glue and nails) and the low life-cycle costs.
“In today's environmentally aware climate, these are all important issues which are being delivered with the Brettstapel product.”
Woodknowledge Wales chair Phil Roberts said, "Turning our own timber into readily usable structural systems at reasonable cost has been the Holy Grail of the Welsh timber sector and with this new to Wales method we believe we have achieved an important part of that objective."
The 400m2 extension will almost double the size of the present visitor centre and will include a new bike shop and hire facility on the ground floor, with a multi-functional conference/meeting room and cafe overflow area on the first floor, along with WCs offering 24-hour public access.
The existing visitor centre, seven miles north of Dolgellau, opened in 2006 but has outgrown its capacity, with more than 150,000 people visiting the iconic forest last year.