Timber and Forestry: Interaction with roads

This article looks at the timber industry in the UK and how transporting timber affects local roads. 

2 May 2017

The UK timber industry is experiencing a period of growth, attributed to factors such as increased demand from house builders and expansion of the wood-fuel sector of the biomass market. In their “Spotlight on Forestry”, Savills predicts that timber values will rise in the long term – up to 32% growth over a 5 year period. Whilst this is excellent news for landowners who already have entered this sector, or are considering afforestation, there are a number of practical implications which have to be considered by those involved in the industry.

Timber and Public Roads 
One of these is the use of local roads when transporting timber. Section 96 of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 requires that the “operator” meets the cost of any above average road maintenance expenditure resulting from traffic movements associated with timber extraction. The operator is any person “by or in consequence of whose orders the vehicles … have been on the road.” This means the company actually removing and transporting the timber. Any specific damage to roads or structures is also the operator’s liability. This liability will be shared where there is more than one operator. The operator may pre-emptively admit liability and agree with the relevant local authority a sum to be paid to cover these extraordinary costs. This is likely to be a figure arrived at through negotiation, and so research on use of the local roads will be useful.

If a road has an ongoing history of timber traffic, or has other usually heavy traffic and there is a pattern of such use in the area, then any new timber traffic may not be considered as extraordinary, as the cost of maintaining the road will not increase. It should be noted that the Highway Authority has a duty to alter the standard of the road from time to time as the volume of traffic upon it increases or alters its character. However, it is unlikely that commencement of a fully-fledged timber business will constitute a gradual change to the character of the road.  

Even if there is no case for claiming that timber traffic is extraordinary traffic due to the nature of the road, operators should be careful not to damage verges or other features of the road as this constitutes an offence under other legislation. 

Local Authorities have other weapons in their arsenal – for example traffic regulation orders under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. These are used to avoid danger to persons or other traffic using the road, prevent damage to the road or to any buildings on or near the road, facilitate traffic passage on the road and to prevent the use of the road by vehicular traffic of a kind which is unsuitable having regard to the existing character of the road. This is a type of regulatory control which would be enforced by the Police.  

A Formal Restriction can also be used to prevent vehicles of a certain weight, length or width using a road.  These can be difficult to administer as Councils will have to create a number of exemptions for local residents, as well as justify why certain types of traffic have been singled out for restriction.

Funding available
Funding for co-financed infrastructure projects is also available from the Strategic Timber Transport Scheme, which has recently received a boost in funding from £5m to £7.05m. The Scheme aims to support timber transport in rural Scotland, partly by financing projects which minimise impact on fragile roads as well as delivering community and environmental benefits. In addition to obtaining all relevant permissions and felling approvals, applicants to the Scheme must also have obtained the written support of their Regional Transport Group.

It is imperative that any landowner who intends to commence afforestation ensures that they have suitable access to and from the land on which they intend to plant timber. If the land is accessed over a neighbouring landowner’s private road, simply having a right of access over that private road may not be sufficient to allow access for forestry purposes. Title deeds should be checked and rights established before planting begins.   

If you wish to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, then please contact our Rural and Renewables Team.