Here’s what Govt needs to do to give building sector best shot at survival

1586521329244OPINION: The impact of Covid-19 is incalculable. The immediate impact on physical and psychological health is immense.

Governmental planning has been driven by modelling that predicts mass infections and substantial mortality. Not unreasonably the New Zealand government instituted a countrywide lockdown. The effect has been monumental. Movements stopped, businesses closed, all bets are off.

It is too soon to say whether we are through the worst of it. What can be said is we need to plan for “the morning after”. At some point we need to get back to work, otherwise inevitable recession could metastasise into depression.

Construction is the commercial canary in the economic coal mine. First to tip into decline in a downturn. First to show green shoots of recovery. The reason for this is the industry is driven by cashflow volume rather than percentage earnings. Builders have low reserves and run out of cash quickly in a downturn. But new construction can start relatively quickly with financial resource availability.

“Nice to have” projects, such as Skypath, may have to be put lower on the priority list. Economists and politicians recognise we build our way out of recession. In the decade since the GFC, we have seen continuous sectoral growth. Yet it has taken all those ten years to grow a housing sector that is still yet to match housing demand. Recently we have seen feelers from Government via Mark Binns at Crown Infrastructure Partners (CIP). The request was for “shovel ready” projects Government could potentially invest in as economic stimulus for construction and the wider economy.

However describing projects as “shovel ready” tends to imply a relationship to dirt, clay, excavation and civil engineering type projects – i.e. horizontal infrastructure. Whilst infrastructure investment is generally laudable, this may have relatively limited economic benefit in the current situation.

Infrastructure isn’t synonymous with the entire construction sector. It is one part of an industry comprising three distinct subsectors – horizontal (roads, water etc), vertical (commercial and multi-storey) and residential (housing). The skills and trades in each subsector do not move between them. Residential uses much more labour; horizontal construction much more plant machinery. Vertical construction is somewhere between the two. Horizontal constructors particularly have skills with limited application elsewhere.

If the intention of Government is to restart the economy, focussing only in horizontal construction would be a missed opportunity. Post-pandemic planning for construction should be focussed on maximising employment across the country. In terms of labour utilisation, residential and vertical constructions use vastly more tradies and subcontractors to deliver their outcomes compared to horizontal construction. Typically up to 50 per cent of all expenditures on a vertical or residential project is in the form of direct labour. Materials and other services have further labour costs associated.

Money going into the hands of tradespeople starts immediately at commencement of projects rather than filtering through later. By contrast horizontal construction has typical labour values of 25 per cent to 30 per cent. Stimulus investment in vertical or residential construction can potentially have twice the employment bang per stimulus buck. We need to think beyond “shovel ready” towards “workforce ready”.

Government needs to take balanced investment approach across the three subsectors if employment is a key focus. Identifying and funding vertical and residential projects we can leverage to rapidly mobilise employment opportunities is essential. This implies we may need to defer “nice to have” projects, such as Skypath and light rail, in favour of health, education and social housing investments.

We should be considering the asset condition of health and education infrastructure across New Zealand. All Governments like to make marks by building impressive new buildings. Regrettably they have all neglected prudent asset management as equally essential to the health of the nation. Estimates put the current health capital building programme at $10 billion to $14b. Countrywide backlog maintenance is $4b to $5b.

The well-publicised poor condition of Counties Manukau health facilities is symptomatic. Similarly backlog maintenance for education from preschool to tertiary is likely of comparable magnitude.

Maintenance backlogs could be unleashed immediately when buttons were pressed. Tradies and SMEs would respond without delay. Better yet, most work won’t be tied up with RMA and consenting. “Shovel ready” infrastructure projects are undoubtedly central to post pandemic planning. However they should be seen as part of a wider tapestry of options. Keeping tradies busy now on backlog maintenance of public sector assets would provide a resilient resource that could be transferred to the private sector after recovery.

We’re in the jaws of a systemic crisis. We need to build our way out through targeted investment. Silver bullet infrastructure spends need to be tempered. We need to retain key skills, maximise employment outcomes and enhance resilience in critical assets. Starkly put – Government should decide whether its policy is to maintain construction employment or construction machines.

Dr John Tookey is professor of construction, director of Centre for Urban Built Environment (CUBE-NZ) at AUT University and Dr Tony Lanigan MNZM is director major projects – estates group at AUT, distinguished fellow of Engineering NZ, former director of Infrastructure Auckland, NZTA and Watercare, director (and former chair) of NZ Housing Foundation and a member of the Ministry of Health’s governance group for Christchurch Hospitals’ redevelopment.

Source: Stuff.co.nz

Auckland City Rail Link construction progress revealed in new video

Progress on Auckland’s City Rail Link has been shown via new video footage released.

Filmed this morning, it shows the construction site on lower Queen Street and beneath Britomart. It comes as the City Rail Link company (CRL) signed a contract with the developer Link Alliance to build the three main stations and complete the construction of the tunnels.

The contract is for the single biggest programme of work for the project. Transport Minister Phil Twyford said the signing of the contract was significant for Auckland and New Zealand. “Given the competition worldwide to build infrastructure, the whole country can take pride in the fact that such a high calibre of international companies want to come here and help build a better future for New Zealand.”

The City Rail Link is the largest transport infrastructure project undertaken in New Zealand. When completed in 2024, twin 3.45km tunnels beneath central Auckland will convert the current dead-end station at Britomart into a through station connected to Mt Eden, doubling the capacity of the city’s rail network.

Source: RNZ.co.nz

New focus with completion of Albert St Rail Tunnel

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Construction of the City Rail Link (CRL)  tunnel under the northern end of Albert Street has finished, marking a shift in focus towards enhancement work along the busy central Auckland thoroughfare.

A concrete pour of the final section of tunnel box roof was completed successfully today (Thursday, 4 July) below the Albert Street/Customs Street intersection.

“There is now a finish line in sight for our work at the north end of Albert Street,” says City Rail Link Ltd’s Chief Executive, Dr Sean Sweeney.  “There is still work to do underground, but we can now start to turn our attention to people-friendly improvements along Albert Street itself.”

The project re-opened the Albert Street/Wyndham Street intersection last month, and work is planned to start mid-July on the first phase of enhancement work. Improvements include  wider footpaths, more open places for people to share, and tree plantings.   Work will start from Wyndham Street and head block by block north towards Customs Street.

“If work goes to plan we are hoping to return the first section of enhancements back to the community around Christmas,” Dr Sweeney says.

The northern section of Albert Street tunnel between Wyndham and Customs Streets is 348 metres long.  The final concrete pour now connects it to the one under the Commercial Bay property development, linking Albert Street to the CRL lower Queen Street/Britomart station construction site.

Construction in Albert Street began in December 2015, with the diversion of a major stormwater line to create room for the tunnel.   Over the past three-and-a-half years, over a million hours were worked on site, 2,500 tonnes of steel bar reinforcement tied together, and over 10,000 cubic metres of concrete poured.  In that time, many kilometers of stormwater, electrical, gas, sewerage and internet lines were relocated or strengthened.  Back filling the trench around the tunnel will be completed in late winter.

Dr Sweeney acknowledges the work of the contractors, and the support from the local community.

“Construction like this in the middle of a city is never easy for anyone – the risks for workers that come from working in confined spaces, and the disruption for people living and working nearby – but we have taken a big step towards building a project that will change the way people can travel around our city,” he says.

The next programme of tunnel construction work on Albert Street is south of the Wyndham Street intersection. Planning by CRL Ltd and companies in the Link Alliance include strategies to manage the impact of those works when they start later this year.

Source: cityraillink.co.nz

$703m Convention Centre to be ‘world-first’, opening to streets on all sides

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The new $703 million NZ International Convention Centre is said to be a world-first because unlike similar giants in other cities around the world, the huge new convention centre here will be open on all sides. John Coop, principal of Warren and Mahoney which was one of the architects, says: “This will be the first convention centre in the world with no back door – open on all four sides to the street and the city that surrounds its highly urban site, presenting an open face to all who approach.” But developer/owner SkyCity Entertainment Group says it will be much more than just open. It will enhance the rejuvenation of the CBD’s western edge, being a catalyst for more development in Victoria Quarter and Federal St. “Once up and running, it is expected to attract more than 33,000 new international visitors to New Zealand, generating $90 million of economic benefits to New Zealand annually and 800 jobs. The hotel development will create a further 150 jobs,” that business says.

With a total gross floor area of 85,000sq m, the centre is one of the biggest building projects undertaken in Auckland lately.

Project

This will be this country’s largest purpose-built convention centre, able to host meetings for about 3000 people, or one-off events for 4000 in its grand exhibition floor. That new hall alone will be five times larger than the current largest exhibition hall in this country: the existing Convention Centre’s New Zealand Room, in the existing SkyCity property between Albert St and Federal St. That hall is column-free, with a soaring 9m stud, able to be configured into three individual halls, all accessed from the surrounding street network. Theatre and plenary spaces, areas for trade shows, banqueting facilities – this place is set to be a hub of activity, all with extensive city views and near the City Rail Link’s Aotea Station. The project is part of the estimated $6 billion five-year building boom which the national construction pipeline report says is now going on in Auckland.

Horizon Hotel

This new 300-room five-star elliptical-shaped glass-clad hotel is beside TVNZ at the seaward end of the site. SkyCity at one stage considered selling it, well before it was finished, but changed its mind and instead plans to sell the thousands of its underground car parks, maybe to Wilsons or Tournament although no deal is yet announced. The hotel will have an underground gym and porte-cochere or entrance way accessed off Nelson St. It will accommodate guests at conventions as well as other visitors. When this opens, SkyCity will have nearly 1000 beds at three hotels on its Auckland CBD sites.

Laneway

A cut-through pedestrian link between Hobson St and Nelson St, to be lined with retail and dining outlets, flanked by the high dramatic walls of the new hotel and centre, expanding the public entertainment precinct, a nod to the popular Vulcan Lane.

Car Parks

SkyCity has 1960 parks below its Auckland casino/hotel site and another 1327 beneath the convention centre site, giving it control of 3287 spaces.

Art

Two of the largest pieces of public art created in this country will be the centre’s exterior, including 2400sqm of glass and 13,500 terracotta tiles for all to see. Works by New Zealand artists Sara Hughes and Peata Larkin were specially commissioned to span 5760sq m once installed on the outside walls.

  • Sara Hughes has made a glass artwork to cover 2400sq m on the southern or Wellesley St wall. It is 105m long and 1.5m wide, varying in height from 1.2m to 3.6ml. Installation was under way last month. She has used 60 different colour tones, inspired by her upbringing in rural Northland near the Waipoua kauri forest so that the piece reflects the experience of walking through our bush and looking up through a canopy of trees to see the unique light and colour of the forest.
  • Larkin’s terracotta tile wall is 3360sq m: 105m long and about 31m tall, comprising 13,500 tiles. She says she wanted to create an art work “that described the multiple waterways and fertile soil Tāmaki Makaurau (and Aotearoa) possesses, as well as connect strongly and aesthetically to Sara Hughes’ glass work. I wanted to soften the long wall and achieved this by creating an undulated geometric pattern inspired by traditional Maori weaving; a subtle three dimensional presence that would visually change dependent on the angle it was viewed from.” The work will be installed this year at the cut-through dining/restaurant lane way at the TVNZ end of the site.

In the neighbourhood

The NZICC is not the only change in the area. SkyCity is pushing ahead with plans to expand Federal St’s food, drink and entertainment offerings with more outlets around the SkyCity Grand and The Depot, and next year open a new attraction with West Workshop to showcase the All Blacks Experience.

Source:

  • Anne Gibson
  • NZ Herald

Timber high-rise tower mooted for Auckland: suggestions on a number of sites

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A building expert wants the Auckland waterfront area to get this country’s first timber high-rise, saying the Wynyard Quarter or Britomart areas would be ideal for a significant wood tower.

Damian Otto, director of design and digital construction at Takapuna-based Tallwood, called for Auckland to go green and build a timber tower of up to 15 levels. That would showcase what could be achieved after technical advancements in timber construction, he said.

“I’ve heard suggestions of wood towers on a number of sites,” he said, naming the Quay Park area as well as the central business district but said nothing was definite and discussions only centred on plans, not finished design.

New Auckland towers are all being built in steel (the 39-level Commercial Bay) and concrete (The Pacifica at 57 levels).

But Otto said that could change.

“Wynyard is the best candidate for a wood building because it’s reclaimed land and above the water. Wood buildings are lighter, so you can build more for less. Timber buildings also perform well in earthquakes. It’s only recently that the timber technology has caught up with materials and availability. There’s going to be a doubling of demand,” Otto said of the type of materials needed to build wood high-rises.

He saw Lendlease’s new wood International House in Sydney during its construction in 2016 and said that had led the way in Australasia. It was now time for us to follow.

“International House is a seven-storey office building manufactured predominantly from engineered timber. It is a great example of the benefits of building tall with timber. There is no reason why we can’t follow in our neighbour’s footsteps and build beautiful, quality, timber buildings such as this one,” Otto said.

Last year, property mogul Sir Bob Jones said he planned to take the timber industry to new heights by erecting the world’s tallest wooden office building in central Wellington on the Leader’s Building on Featherston St: a 12-storey 52m block due to be completed later this year.

Otto said wooden building offered advantages over concrete and steel high-rises because not only were they lighter, making them ideal for reclaimed land, but they could be dismantled and the materials recycled.

Lendlease had designed and built International House with longevity in mind, he said.

“In the words of architect, Alec Tzannes, they reached for a design that would weather well, be long lasting and attractive because ‘buildings that are not considered beautiful tend to be demolished, so beauty is at the essence of our concerns about a lower carbon future’,” Otto said.

International House, although a relatively small project by Lendlease standards, had huge significance in this part of the world, Otto said.

A Tokyo skyscraper is set to become the world’s tallest wooden building. Sumitomo Forestry is planning W350, a 70-storey block made 90 per cent of wooden materials, due to be completed in 2041 and to mark 350 years of that business.

Source:

  • Anne Gibson
  • NZ Herald

 

Auckland remains world’s third best city for quality of life

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Auckland has again been ranked the third best city in the world for quality of life, according to an international survey. Consultancy giant Mercer’s Quality of Living Index has ranked the Super City third out of 450 cities. Austrian capital Vienna was top, and Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich, was second. Auckland shared third place with German city Munich.

Wellington came in at 15th place, followed by Melbourne at 16th place. Sydney was Australia’s top-ranked city at 10. Mercer New Zealand CEO Martin Lewington said the City of Sails remained an attractive place to do business. “There are a number of factors which have contributed to companies looking at establishing headquarters or relocating expats to Auckland,” he said. “New Zealand’s natural environment and subtropical climate, stable political and social environment, and good medical and health services are the top three contributing factors for Auckland retaining third spot in the global rankings.”

This year, Mercer introduced a separate ranking on city sanitation, which analysed cities’ waste removal and sewage infrastructure, levels of infectious disease, air pollution, water availability and quality. Auckland ranked 5th and Wellington 6th in sanitation, with Honolulu taking first place, followed by Helsinki and Ottawa sharing second place. “With Auckland and Wellington’s air and water quality being among the world’s cleanest, compared to some other popular expat destinations, it means that New Zealand becomes more attractive for global talent,” said Lewington.

Source:

  • Stuff.co.nz
  • Photo: Gil Alcock/Stuff

My Name Is Jeffie!

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City Rail Link’s latest tunnel boring machine has been named Jeffie after a hugely popular CRL social media naming contest. More than 30,000 people from as far away as the UK, USA, Europe, the Philippines and Afghanistan participated in the naming contest run in just under a week. The most popular name by far was Jeff.

Thousands of people voted Jeff based on the popular meme “My Name is Jeff” which was a line used by the character Greg Jenko in the 2014 action comedy film 22 Jump Street. Traditionally such machines adopt a female name so Jeffie, an aligned feminine name will be used. Jeffie was a popular girls name in the early 1900’s.

Naming digging equipment after women is said to be a tradition that dates to the 1500’s when miners prayed to St. Barbara to keep them safe underground.  Saint Barbara is the patron saint of armourers, artillerymen, military engineers, miners and others who work with explosives because her legend associated her with lightning. Popular runners-up were Bora the Explorer and Bessie.

The tunnel boring machine will shortly begin work in Mt Eden to divert a section of an existing stormwater pipe in preparation for the redevelopment of the Mt Eden train station. The contract was awarded to the March Bessac Joint Venture who were represented in the final naming decision. Thanks to everyone who participated and provided an impressive number of excellent suggestions.

Source:

  • cityraillink.co.nz
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