Crash kills wood advocate

Wood wise: Michael Cambridge of the Marlborough Regional Development of Affordable Housing Committee with a shelter to be sent to Christchurch after the earthquake
Wood wise: Michael Cambridge of the Marlborough Regional Development of Affordable Housing Committee with a shelter to be sent to Christchurch after the earthquake

Marlborough's staunchest advocate for using wood in buildings has died in a North Island car crash.

Michael Cambridge, a Blenheim forester and wood advocate, was killed in the crash on State Highway 5 between Taupo and Rotorua early on Sunday morning.

Mr Cambridge was understood to be returning from a visit to the Tuhoe building near Ruatoki, thought to be New Zealand's greenest building and built completely from wood.

Michael Cambridge
Michael Cambridge

Ten days ago, Mr Cambridge was encouraging the National Party's Blue-Green members at their meeting in Kaikoura to visit the site of the Kaikoura District Council's new three-storey building built with wood panels rather than concrete.

He also tried to convince Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee to re-build Christchurch in wood, piling up so many arguments Mr Brownlee was forced to say "Look, I'm in the National Party - I'm not going to tell people what they have to build their buildings in".

Longtime friend and Marlborough Forest Association executive officer Ron Sutherland said Mr Cambridge was one of the top people in New Zealand in terms of advocating for the use of wood.

"He really went out of his way to get himself informed about buildings and wood, not just in New Zealand, but also Europe and China."

Mr Sutherland said people in the industry in Marlborough were in shock.

"It's a huge loss to the industry here, because he had so much to give . . . We feel for his family."

Mr Cambridge was in his second two-year term as president of the Marlborough Forest Association, Mr Sutherland said, and had a good working relationship with scientists and engineers working at the University of Canterbury on wood and new wood systems. "He was also very passionate about wood that came from Marlborough and new systems that were being developed for engineering wood products, particularly in Nelson.

"He was very forthcoming in letting people know that the wood industry, including all its facets, were an integral part of the economic community in Marlborough. Not just the people growing it, he was an advocate for the people who worked in forests and the sawmills and all the industries."

Marlborough Forestry Association treasurer Murray Turbot said Mr Cambridge was a man ahead of his time and had gone from being a successful merino farmer to being a pretty successful forester.

"One thing I always noticed about him was that he had ideas well in advance of them becoming popular. He seemed to go out on a limb quite often. At times, people looked at him with a bit of scepticism, but in the fullness of time, most of them had already come about."

Mr Turbot said Mr Cambridge was shy, but when he got an idea, he was really enthusiastic and never gave up on his ideas.

The forest and wood industry would miss him, Mr Turbot said, as Mr Cambridge "pushed it to the hilt all the time".

"He was starting to get some traction, it was gaining momentum. I bet he was really excited about what he was seeing, some results. It is tragic."

Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman said Mr Cambridge's passionate advocacy made a great contribution to Marlborough. He supported the council's landscape group, was a member of BikeWalk Group, and an advocate for the region's timber and wood products sector, working alongside the council and forestry sector as part of the "Smart and Connected" economic development programme.

"Michael was a fervent believer in the potential for timber and wood, an early advocate of the need for innovation and an ardent speaker on his environmental principles. It is sad that the region has lost someone who was willing to give so much time and energy to researching and generating new ideas and lobbying on behalf of his sector."

Prefab NZ chief executive Pamela Bell said Mr Cambridge's death was an absolutely tragic loss of such intense and well-guided passion for innovative timber solutions in New Zealand.

"It is a huge loss for the timber industry to lose a figurehead like this. It is a life cut short, Michael had no signs of slowing down."

The car crash which killed Mr Cambridge on Sunday morning also trapped the 36-year-old male driver of the second car inside his vehicle. He was later taken to Waikato Hospital by helicopter with serious injuries.

Bay of Plenty road policing manager Fane Troy said the cause of the crash was still under investigation by the Rotorua Serious Crash Unit.

"Police will be looking at the environment, vehicles and drivers to see what factors, if any, they contributed to the crash."

Mr Cambridge's funeral is at 11.30am on Thursday at Blenheim's Church of the Nativity in Alfred St. 

The Marlborough Express