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

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

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

 

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

Bugger! Anyone got a spade?

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State Highway 1 north and south of Kaikōura will remain closed until at least the middle of next week after ex-Cyclone Gita brought down 300,000 cubic metres of debris over the road at 60 sites. Since Tuesday morning, the route has been closed south of Kaikōura, between Peketa and Goose Bay, and north of the town from Mangamaunu to Clarence – the same sections where significant earthquake repairs were carried out following the magnitude-7.8 earthquake in November 2016. Though the rain dislodged less material than what fell during the quake, when over one million cubic metres buried roads and railway lines , the rockfall is still significant.

The biggest slip came down just south of Okiwi Bay, to the north of Kaikōura. About 200,000 cubic metres of rock and dirt fell there. The slips have also closed KiwiRail’s Main North Line, which runs alongside the highway. NZ Transport Agency earthquake recovery manager Tim Crow said the slips were “very different in nature” to those caused by the quake and mostly came down at new sites. He said they would not require time consuming rock bolting and other slope protection like that needed after the earthquake.  “The great news is we’re all geared up, we’ve already got trucks and excavators working on clearing this material.”

About 95 millimetres of rain fell over Kaikōura in the 48 hours to 9am on Thursday, but it was heavier in the hills to the north and south of the town. MetService meteorologist Josh Griffin said 300mm fell at Rosy Morn, south of Kaikōura, during the ex-cyclone.  State Highway 1 is one of the major arterial routes in the South Island. It reopened only on December 15 after more than a year of repairs and had closed several times since due to weather conditions and ongoing rebuild work. This week’s closure leaves just one way in or out of Kaikōura – the difficult inland route via Waiau. Those travelling between Picton and Christchurch must use the challenging alternative route over the Lewis Pass (SH7).

Crow said crews were focused on getting a single lane of traffic open to reconnect Kaikōura. The reopening date will be reviewed on Monday.  The storm damage had not “gone backwards” on the work that had already been done after the quake. The completed work around Ōhau Point, where the quake damage was most extensive, held up well in the storm, as had the new seawalls near Irongate Bridge. Kaikōura mayor Winston Gray said it was a shame the road was closed again, but the town “just had to live with it for a while”. “We had to expect it because there’s a lot of movement up on those hills alongside the highway.” He said he had heard nothing to suggest it would be shut for a long period. He thought overseas travellers would still come to the tourism-dependent town, though the closure may discourage domestic visitors.

The annual Kaikōura A&P show – a popular horse event – will still go ahead on Saturday, but Gray worried those planning to head down from the north would no longer make the longer trip. KiwiRail Main North Line project director Walter Rushbrook said a lot of areas that had undergone earthquake repair work “held up well in the face of the severe weather”. “Our teams are already under way clearing and repairing the track, but this work will take some time and we will not be in a position to run any trains between Blenheim and Christchurch next week.

“We will get the line open again as soon as we possibly can and we are already working on getting the freight rolling again by extending operating hours at our Blenheim Freight Hub to support transport of freight through the South Island.” Rushbrook said KiwiRail was in close contact with its customers. A possible reopening date would be provided next week.  The Christchurch Transport Operations Centre said motorists using the state highways at the top and west of the South Island should check forecasts and road conditions before travelling.

Source:

  • Michael Hayward
  • Stuff.co.nz
  • Photo: NZTA

 

Number of cranes goes sky-high

The construction boom is seeing an unprecedented number of cranes rise across New Zealand’s cities, according to research released today. The Q2 2017 RLB Crane Index revealed a record 132 cranes towering over New Zealand’s cities, with Auckland alone accounting for 72.

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“In Auckland, in particular, strong economic growth driven by high inward migration and increasing tourist numbers, along with solid housing activity, manufacturing and consumer spending, has seen the rock star economy continuing to drive the construction industry, where demand is stretching the current supply,” said Chris Haines, Rider Levett Bucknall’s Auckland Director.

“Auckland continues to dominate New Zealand skies with 72 long-term cranes, 55 per cent of all cranes observed across the seven key centres,” Haines said. “The current index highlights a 13 per cent increase in the number of cranes within the Auckland region since the last count in Q4 2016. Twenty-three new cranes have been erected and 15 have been removed from projects that are nearing completion.” Construction work put in place increased by 20 per cent in the 2016 calendar year, making it the fifth consecutive year of growth.

Source:

  • Anne Gibson
  • NZ Herald

Auckland to Whangarei motorway on the cards

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A motorway from Auckland to Whangarei has been flagged by Transport Minister Simon Bridges. Speaking at today’s sod turning to mark the start of the $709.5 million Puhoi to Warkworth motorway, Bridges said over time the motorway would extend to Whangarei, a distance of 162km.

Prime Minister John Key and Bridges turned the first sod during a tour of roading projects north of Auckland, including a new roundabout in the township of Waimaukau. Bridges said the Government had pledged to build a four-lane road of national significance from Puhoi to Wellsford and the entire corridor to Whangarei was very important.

“A lot of people talk about the Brynderwyns and the need for a very strong solution there. “You have got Northport up closer to Whangarei, which is again justification for doing a much more significant job all the way. “Whether that’s to road of national significance standard or something different to that I couldn’t say at the moment … but as Transport Minister I’m very attracted to progress more significant road improvements, not just through to Wellsford but up to Whangarei,” Bridges said.

He said realistically it was not five or six years away, but probably a decade of more away. New Zealand Transport Agency chairman Chris Moller said the agency was looking at the Whangarei to Auckland connection but a motorway could be 30 years away. The Puhoi to Warkworth motorway extends 18.5km over difficult terrain from the Johnstone Hills tunnels just south of Puhoi to just north of Warkworth.

sssCritics have nicknamed it the “holiday highway” to the intense annoyance of Northland leaders. The new motorway will have two lanes in each direction divided by a central median with a safety barrier. Both Bridges and Rodney MP Mark Mitchell stressed the safety benefits of the new motorway. Said Mitchell: “Safety is definitely a No 1 concern. Unfortunately the piece of road we have to use at the moment comes with hazards and we have too many serious injuries and fatal accidents on that piece of road.”

The project is the second public private partnership (PPP) for a state highway, after the Transmission Gully motorway in Wellington. Under the latest PPP, the Northern Express Group will finance, design, construct, manage and maintain the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway for the 25 years following a five-year build. The motorway is due for completion in 2021. Incentives built into the contract will ensure the motorway is one of the safest in New Zealand with lower grades and be more resilient to natural disasters and road closures.

Bridges said a decision had not been made on whether to toll the new Puhoi to Warkworth motorway. Route protection of the next stage of the motorway from Warkworth to Wellsford is underway. The NZ Transport Agency is planning to release an indicative route early next year. The Automobile Association is delighted that construction is officially underway on the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway extension. “Many people from outside Northland don’t understand what a vital step forward this is for us,” AA Northland District Chairman Steve Westgate said. “It’s not just about safer, quicker and more reliable journeys, it’s about the economic opportunities that come with it. This project will improve our connections with Auckland, New Zealand and the world.”

Source:

  • Bernard Orsman
  • NZ Herald

 

No room for contractors with criminal convictions

Contractors with serious criminal convictions are set to be barred from Christchurch’s earthquake repair programme.

Fletcher EQR, the project manager for properties with quake damage of $15,000 to $100,000, has launched a six-week trial to screen the backgrounds of prospective workers. Applicants convicted of offences involving theft, dishonesty, violence or the manufacture or use of class A or B drugs in the past seven years would be declined.

A Fletcher EQR spokesman said the trial was requested by the Earthquake Commission (EQC), which began vetting its own contractors last year, and was designed to ‘‘help put people’s minds at rest’’.

However, it did not apply to existing accredited contractors, for whom criminal declarations had been voluntary.

Minor convictions predating seven years would be assessed case by case and any ‘‘serious’’ past convictions, outside the seven-year time frame, would be considered by a joint EQC-EQR panel.

Cases where existing contractors were found to have convictions would be ‘‘judged on merit’’.

EQC customer services general manager Bruce Emson said the qualifications and reputation of Fletcher EQR contractors were checked and there was ‘‘already a significant degree of assurance of their character’’.

‘‘Fletcher contractors are expected to take care in the choice of their employees, and if it became apparent that there were issues with their staff it would result in a review of the contractor’s ongoing involvement with the project,’’ he said. ‘‘Nevertheless, it is hoped that more in-depth vetting will provide greater assurance if the trial proves it to be practical.’’

Labour Party earthquake recovery spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel was surprised to learn the policy was not in place already.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said it was an operational matter for EQC and Fletcher EQR. ‘‘But obviously both companies need to be comfortable with the people [doing] work on their behalf.’’

Source:

  • The Press
  • Marc Greenhill marc.greenhill@press.co.nz
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