Red tape hinders rebuild helpers
Frustrated Nelson firms say they are making little headway in helping out with the Christchurch rebuild, citing outdated building standards, red tape and conservative attitudes as major hindrances to securing work.
Local timber manufacturers and designers behind innovative projects such as much-lauded Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology's arts and media building are particularly peeved at the lack of progress.
At a Reinventing Wood conference in Nelson a year ago, Gibbons Construction managing director Scott Gibbons warned that the wood industry risked missing out on rebuild opportunities in Christchurch because standards were deficient, unduly complex and took too long to review. He was also critical of the lack of unity within the industry, saying it was a major stumbling block.
Mr Gibbons told the Nelson Mail that despite government assurances little had changed since then to make it easier for those with new products designed to better withstand earthquakes to compete for contracts.
A major standard for timber buildings had been amended, but still excluded the use of new engineered products which forced those wanting to use laminated veneer lumber, gulam and cross laminated timber to go through a time-consuming, complicated and costly alternative approval system, he said.
"A lot of work we are having to do is outside the standards framework.
"In essence not a lot has changed, there are a lot of outdated standards . . . it's very frustrating."
The amalgamation of four government departments into the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment during the year had been a big hurdle and meant important issues had gone on the backburner, he said.
"The old department of building and housing has been very non-engaging because they didn't know where they stood or whether they would exist anymore."
While forest owners and wood processors had co-operated to produce a Woodco strategy to grow the industry, there was still a need for much more collaboration in what remained tough times for many, Mr Gibbons said.
However, there were "a few big players who saw themselves as bigger than the industry" and a "disturbing" trend of some quitting industry organisations to do their own thing.
He was waiting for the ministry to release the results of a review into timber standards, which would involve the industry contributing some funding, "although there will probably be a fight over who pays for what".
In the meantime, an informal grouping of Nelson companies was working to promote the use of damage avoidance technology and greater use of timber in buildings, Mr Gibbons said. "We believe we can come up with a hybrid solution which uses a lot more timber engineered products than a conventional steel and concrete building."
Despite a fall in steel prices which made it tougher to compete, there were still a lot of pluses to using timber such as construction cost savings, better seismic protection and the job spinoffs from using a locally grown and sustainable resource, he said.
Gibbons was tendering for contracts in Christchurch but had yet to secure any, although it had resource consent for a three-storey building in central Nelson, he said. It hopes to start construction on the $3.5m-$4m project early in the new year on the old Magoo Mufflers site in Halifax St.
Gibbons Construction would occupy the top storey, with retail and offices filling the lower floors, he said.
Robin Frengley, a spokesman for the Nelson Timber Solutions said the consortium hadn't been involved in any Christchurch projects over the last year - disappointing given the efforts to promote timber as an alternative and increased interest among clients.
Restrictive building standards and engineers overloaded with projects were major problems, he said.
"Timber engineering takes a bit longer to sort through the details and a lot of practices are struggling for time so they settle back on their accustomed systems which are steel and concrete.
"It is frustrating but it is tempered by the fact that we are all so busy."
Mr Frengley said it was ironic that the two timber building projects the consortium was involved in were both outside Christchurch. One involved building new council offices, library and museum in Kaikoura and the other a Maori studies block for a polytechnic in Rotorua.
Paul Brockie, a committee member of the Nelson Project Design Build Cluster, which was set up to help with the Christchurch rebuild, said it was still early days but not much business had been secured so far.
"It is slow going.
"There is so much red tape to get through and insurance companies are battling it out with homeowners and the Earthquake Commission over who is going to pay for what.
"There is no quick solution.
"There is definitely going to be work but how it will pan out is unknown."
However, cluster representatives had received a good response from key people and business leaders involved in planning the reconstruction during a recent get-to-know-you visit to Christchurch, he said. "They were quite keen on dealing with one group rather than a whole bunch of companies and individuals."
The cluster now had more than 20 members, including Opus, NMIT and Nelson Pine Industries which gave it more clout, he said.
Jason Guiver, a consultant to NPI who previously worked for the Wood Design Advisory Centre, said wood had a good story to tell but what was stalling people were slow insurance payouts, the recent release of the Christchurch central city development plan which had seen some projects dropped or changed and general caution in the face of an uncertain economic outlook.
Associate Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy, who visited Nelson last week to talk to timber manufacturers and designers and inspect their work, acknowledged there were blockages in the system which made it difficult for them.
With between 1000 and 2000 new commercial and industrial buildings required in Christchurch, there were excellent opportunities for Nelson companies with some "fantastic" new products to pitch for business, he said.
But he agreed that key standards needed modernising and said he had raised it with Standards New Zealand and asked the ministry for a report.
"They are very aware there are some issues and are keen to work with industry to ensure we can get something that can help facilitate the rebuild of Christchurch.
"I would like to think in the next few months we are making some sizeable gains on what has been a real issue for the industry," he said.
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