Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Building materials shortage forecast outside Auckland

New Zealand’s biggest housebuilder is worried about the lockdown’s effects on the $26 billion construction sector and another boss predicts builders outside Auckland could run out of materials and equipment within three days.

Grant Porteous of G.J. Gardner Homes NZ, said he is concerned about manufacturers in the building sector being unable to continue and the stresses that will put on the sector and people working in it at all levels.

He’s not immediately concerned for his business but is for the thousands of families this industry provides for and for so many people midway through building, living in temporary accommodation or paying two mortgages, desperate to get into their new homes.

The problems will have also has a trickle-down effect on the housing supply, Porteous forecasts.

“Auckland is a critical link in the NZ wide supply chain for so many materials and finished products. For example, you’ve got a product like insulation already struggling to keep up with record levels of demand, such as Pink Batts. Why couldn’t they continue to manufacture to get ahead of immediate and forward supply-demand, along with other manufacturers?

“These are professional large organisations, they know how to protect their employees and provide a safe work environment, especially in controlled factory conditions,” Porteous said.

The inconsistency about what is or isn’t essential “most can’t comprehend, there’s no seemingly sensible priorities on what can or can’t be supplied or done under level 4 or 3.

“It’s just ridiculous as so many intelligent commentators, such as a recent article by Nic Mowbray and others have previously espoused.Fitness gear could be distributed but building equipment can’t unless it’s an emergency,” Porteous said.

“I was able to order fitness gear online and get them supplied to me under alert level 4. And of course, you must be able to supply alcohol…Yeh right.All sorts of non-essential products will be trucked over the Auckland border, but not building products to keep a critical industry to New Zealander’s welfare, by the Government supposed own rhetoric that we must provide more safe warm housing.

“This an industry already struggling and behind the needs of New Zealanders,” Porteous said.

A second chief forecast builders and tradespeople outside Auckland and Northland might run out of materials in three days.

Julien Leys, chief executive of the NZ Building Industry Federation, said Auckland staying on alert level 4 for the next fortnight while the rest of the country’s sites became active could spell big trouble because most supplies came from Auckland.

“Construction work allowed under alert Level 3 will run out of materials like wallboards, plaster systems, gutters and downpipes, construction glues and additives for structural concrete,” Leys forecast.

Being unable to open Auckland warehouses, distribution centres and get building products out could be more serious than the Construction Sector Accord and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise had told the Government, he says.

Most building products and materials are delivered to Auckland, then distributed from there.

But the lockdown means most Auckland warehouses are shut. Only dispatches for limited numbers of essential service orders are allowed.

Reinforcing mesh for residential and commercial construction, including mesh and wire for precast industries, would also be in short supply. Of the seven reinforcing mesh manufacturing plants in New Zealand, four are in Auckland and provide 95 per cent of mesh volumes to the North Island.

Mesh plants also manufacture drawn wire products used by the country’s concrete pipe manufacturers. No product distribution in level 4 will mean little or no manufacture of concrete pipes, Leys said.

If mesh and steel supplies can’t leave Auckland, that hits house, commercial and infrastructure sites.

“Many building products manufacturers and suppliers have requested exemptions and approval to shift product out of Auckland from MBIE but have either not had any reply or been given a blanket no.

“We know that freight providers are ready and able to comply with a strict non-contact process and move essential building products in the same way that New Zealand’s bulk food products are distributed from warehouses in south Auckland to the rest of the country.

Leys said he contacted the Minister of Building and Construction Poto Williams. She said:
“We are working with the accord to establish where stocks are held including outside of Auckland and what products will be those most critical for a residential build. We will act if required to release product should that be necessary.”

Leys said that didn’t reflect the seriousness of the situation.

Auckland is the manufacturing and distribution powerhouse for New Zealand, he said.

“Close Auckland and effectively this will shut the rest of the country’s building and construction sector,” Leys said.

The Herald sought a list of jobs that were deemed essential and able to continue under alert level 4. MBIE said it could not supply such a list.

Industry chiefs said that during a lockdown last year, work on some hospital sites was deemed essential and allowed to continue.

Work on the new Fisher & Paykel Healthcare building in Auckland was also understood to have been deemed essential and continued.

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