TimberLINK Environmental and Economic Evaluation

CEP was commissioned by Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) to carry out an Environmental and Economic Evaluation of the TimberLINK service.  For this project, CEP partnered with Tom Matthew from Reference Economic Consultants who provided economic impact assessment expertise for the evaluation.  We also worked with Dr Neil Ferguson from the University of Strathclyde Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering who provided technical input on various transport impacts, issues and assessment methods.

TimberLINK is a public service contract, funded by the Scottish Government through FCS and the Strategic Timber Transport Fund (STTF), to support short-sea coastal shipping of roundwood from forests in Argyll to processors in Ayrshire.  Argyll is the complex area of peninsulas and islands that makes up the south-west coast of Scotland (see map).  Forest cover in Argyll is almost double that of the Scottish average though there is limited local processing capacity.  This means that much of the timber grown and harvested in Argyll leaves the area to be processed in Ayrshire and central Scotland.  The Argyll area’s complex geography means that road transportation of this timber requires a circuitous route on a road that is not ideal for HGVs (see map).  The TimberLINK service transfers some of this timber to short sea-coastal shipping, principally to reduce the environmental impacts of timber transport by taking timber lorries off the road.

The overall aim of the TimberLINK evaluation project undertaken by CEP and partners was to establish an understanding of the direct and indirect environmental and economic impacts of the TimberLINK service and of reasonable alternatives.  This included the use of appropriate methods and data to quantify and, where possible, monetise environmental impacts.

CEP designed and delivered an appropriate approach to assessing the environmental impacts of the service.  A mixed methods approach, based on standard Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) methods and evaluation criteria, was used for impacts that could not be fully quantified.  These assessments drew on quantitative data on timber lorry movements combined with insights from local stakeholders gained through semi-structured interviews.  Some impacts were fully quantified and monetised using timber lorry movement data combined with conversion factors and economic multipliers.  This included impacts relating to fuel usage and carbon emissions, damage to roads and road maintenance costs, noise and air pollution.  CEP also designed and ran a seminar with various Argyll and Ayrshire timber transport stakeholders (e.g. hauliers, processors, FCS, local authority roads departments) to present and discuss the evaluation findings.

Working closely with Reference Economic Consultants, CEP synthesised the environmental and economic aspects of the evaluation to form an overall view of the sustainability of the TimberLINK service.  For financial year 2015/16, the evaluation found that TimberLINK produces a net benefit of £620,660.  This net benefit is defined as the net reduction in environmental costs afforded by sea transportation of timber combined with the additional economic benefit (Gross Value Added) of the service at the Scotland level.  This value is similar (6.7% less) to the TimberLINK subsidy paid in 2015/16, meaning that subsidy payments are commensurate with the realised environmental and economic benefits of the service.  In reality, these benefits are likely to exceed the subsidy payment as the environmental benefits estimated are highly conservative.

FCS (as a Directorate of the Scottish Government) has used the evaluation results to inform ongoing deliberations regarding future spending policy and priorities under the STTF.