Building industry mulls radical change amid crisis - 22 Sept 2016

AMANDA CROPP (Christchurch Press)

A who’s who of the construction industry is gathering in Christchurch to come up with solutions for the housing crisis.
The Registered Master Builders Association organised the Constructive forum and chief executive David Kelly said a radical rethink was needed to cope with unprecedented demand for residential and commercial building, particularly in Christchurch and Auckland.

Leading builders, architects, developers, and engineers will discuss new approaches to contracts, training methods, and building systems such as off-site fabrication. 

Kelly said the different branches of the industry usually met separately and Thursday’s forum was a first. He was confident  it would provide practical solutions, rather than be yet another ‘‘talk fest’’. But he also warned that there was no quick fix for the lack of affordable housing, skilled labour
and suitable land. 

‘‘We have some significant challenges and opportunities ahead of us … If we just do things the way we have [always] done it, we will not get there, so we have to operate differently.’’

Kelly said the current procurement system needed to change and options included open-book tendering where margins were agreed in advance.  It was more common in the private sector where developers entered into arrangements with preferred contractors they had
worked with before. ‘‘Typically what government departments have done in New Zealand is to get a whole bunch of tenders and go for the lowest price. ‘‘That’s a risky and expensive business for constructors and consultants. They say every time they have to put a bid together, it costs a 
lot of money and there is no certainty of getting the work.’’ Kelly said that with building booming, contractors might decide not to bother with expensive bid processes and government agencies still wanting a good price would have to rethink their tendering approach.

‘‘We need to have longer-term contracts and bigger contracts – then we will have the confidence to invest in the people and in off-site fabrication,’’ he said. ‘‘At the moment if you haven’t got that certainty, then you’re very cautious about the number of people you take on, how much money you
sink into capital and so on.’’

Kelly said there had been talk of getting a large overseas company in to build lots of homes quickly.He believed it was better to make the New Zealand building industry more sustainable and having 10,000 building apprentices in training was a great start. However, it was not enough to
cover the peak workload, so as well as bringing in migrant workers to fill the gap, a new training model may be needed for heavy construction and multistorey buildings. ‘‘Construction companies are saying [traditional carpenters] may not be what we need for the future. [They need] someone who
can do general concrete work, then go on to do metal fixing work the next day, and so forth.’’ 

Off-site fabrication and new training methods are some of the solutions up for discussion at a meeting of building industry heads.