The debate rages on! After covering the ongoing issues between the AFI and WPA over failing timber fence posts in a recent issue of Fencing & Landscaping News, Cumbrian contractor Rob Bell got in touch with his take on the subject.

Rob, who has been fencing across the Lake District and Cumbrian Fells for 25 years from his base in Kendal, is seeing more and more of his hard work going to waste as a result of failing treated fence posts.

Rob explained “It’s 15 years since Tanalise (CCA) treatment was banned and it’s no coincidence that we are seeing an increasing number of treated posts, installed ever since and supposedly guaranteed for 15 years, failing the test of time.

“I’m fed up of having to explain to farmers and landowners as to why their posts have failed and then having to spend my own time and resources correcting the problems.

“Prior to 2006, most ground contact fence posts came with an expectation of 30 years’ service life with many lasting far longer. We must have a sensible debate across the industry as to how to address this issue and my view is to introduce a controlled scheme whereby professional fencing contractors are able to use tantalised posts in the same way that creosoted timbers are used in the industry.

“Other options, such as chestnut posts, are simply not viable or available alternatives up here in Cumbria. I accept that the WPA’s hands are tied by government rules but they need to challenge the government over existing regulations.

“We have to have redress or more and more hard-working contractors will be caught in the crossfire through no fault of their own. The desperation that many contractors are feeling is palpable.

“It makes no sense from an environmental and carbon footprint perspective to carry on with this unsustainable approach. For every post that fails, new timber needs to be grown, felled and cut, forwarded to the roadside, hauled to the sawmill, be put through the treatment plant, hauled out to the supplier to be distributed to the contractor and then installed every 5,10 or 15 years. Now if that’s better for the environment than one post with CCA lasting thirty years, I’ll eat my hat.

“The ground rules need to change!” asserted Rob.

Ian Ripley, CEO of the AFI (Association of Fencing Industries), commented: “The AFI supports Rob Bell’s position on failing timber posts completely. We are tired of hearing the term ’desired life’ trotted out timeand time again. Let’s make things clear: ‘desired life’ only describes the process by which the product is to be treated it is NOT and never hasbeen, any indication of the product’s performance. It is not a guide as to the product’s likely life expectancy.

“As to the comments relating to CCA treatment whether it is possible to reinstate CCA as a treatment or not, we would expect that the WPA would know whether that is possible solution. Our view is that there is no doubt that CCA treatment was a better option for the industry than what we have currently.

“There is also no doubt that up to the early 2000s premature failure of timber in ground contact was not unknown. It was, however, unusual and that is certainly not the case with the treatment systems we have today. It was expected that the timber would last a similar length of time to the galvanised fencing which formed the rest of the fence. That wire fencing was expected to last in the region of 30 years and it still does today. Unfortunately, the timber does not.

“Professional contractors, including AFI members, do not object to paying to receive the appropriate product for the job. What we do object to is paying for it and the product failing prematurely, then being left to foot the bill for its failure.

“It is unfortunate that contractors, such as Rob Bell, who correctly specify UC4 treatment, using current treatment formulations from treatment companies, cannot rely on the material they receive being suitable for use ‘in the ground’ and get little or no support from the chemical suppliers and treatment companies when the product fails.

“We have listened to treatment companies blaming the chemicals and the chemical suppliers blaming the treatment companies for long enough. Stop telling us that we are not specifying the product correctly. We have tried to suggest a possible solution and have been ignored. If the treatment industry cannot respond to the problem, timber will cease to be the most used material for fencing and alternatives will be found.

“Rob’s final comment is correct. It makes no sense from an environmental and ‘whole life cost point of view to continue using treated timber in ground contact unless a ‘guaranteed life’ product can be offered by the supply chain,” added Ian.

In response to these comments, Gordon Ewbank, CEO of the Wood Protection Association, said: “We’re grateful for the chance to respond to Rob’s submission. Whilst we understand and, on some points, agree with his comments, we would like to put the record straight in several important respects.

“Rob says that “prior to 2006, most ground contact fence posts came with an expectation of 30 years’ service life with many lasting far longer”. However, this was never the case. The British Standard in force up until the late 90s was BS5589 which offered 20 and 40 years desired service life categories. 15-20 years was very much the standard and 40 years a ‘special order’ specification.

“Our interpretation of the second part of Rob’s statement is that he’s calling for the re-introduction of CCA treatments. Whilst that would indeed add to the range of options available to the supply chain it is sadly not going to happen, not least because the manufacturing capability no longer exists.

“The WPA and our partner trade associations around Europe fought hard to retain CCA technology when it first came under review by the European commission nearly 20 years ago. In the end, it is our view that the decision to ban the material was a political rather than technical one. In the current regulatory climate, there is no chance that it would be re-approved and, indeed, the future of creosote is now very much in question.

“Having said that, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that CCA was a particularly robust formulation which did give some enhancement to service life even when not used in accordance with the requirements of the British standards. In other words, the performance of poorly treated CCA posts was better than poorly treated ‘new’ formulation posits, and that may possibly be true. However, the answer isn’t to revert to CCA (even if that were possible) but to ensure the wood is treated properly in the first place using current formulations, which are underpinned by good quality test data, and be prepared to pay for quality.

“The only practical way forward is the positive approach which the WPA, TTF and our members are heavily promoting – to ensure the correct use of the current treatment formulations – and that is to: Specify ground contact timbers correctly as Use Class 4, use a trusted treater with 3rd party accreditation and be prepared to pay extra for quality,” added Gordon. / 07778 334065

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