Rebuild just 'at tip of iceberg'

Last updated 13:00 21/02/2013

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Nearly two years after the destructive Christchurch earthquake, Nelson businesses are seeing plenty of opportunities to help with the city's rebirth, but the vast project is still in its early stages.

Infrastructure and engineering firms say there is plenty of work available in Christchurch, with more staff being based in the city as the rebuild accelerates.

Nelson structural engineer Carl Devereux, who has been involved in Christchurch since the February 22, 2011 earthquake, said the rebuild would take at least a decade and possibly 20 years.

Mr Devereux, who has held lead engineer roles with urban search and rescue and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority's significant buildings unit, is still working full-time in Christchurch as a business development manager.

He was aware of a small group of Nelson engineers, lawyers and other industry professionals regularly travelling to Christchurch. There would be more opportunities as the work increased. It "could stretch out to 20 years".

"We're two years on and we're still working on demolition projects and damage assessment projects. We still haven't quantified the full scale of the disaster yet. There are some early rebuild projects starting but it's really only the tip of the iceberg, and they're only just starting now."

The residential rebuild had also only really begun over the past six months, and he saw the commercial work "probably kicking in to full capacity in 2014".

The Nelson manager of consulting engineers Aurecon, Mr Devereux said it was difficult to grasp the size of the overall project, with a total cost of $30 billion being quoted, he said.

There would be a huge groundswell of workers flooding into the city who would need to be fed, housed and entertained. The $300-$500 million Christchurch convention centre project alone could have 3000 workers on site.

"Three thousand workers constrained into just one corner of the city while the rest of the city's rebuild is underway, it's big numbers - nothing that the South Island has ever seen before."

Mr Devereux was one of 140 Usar team members honoured by the Fire Service at a function in Wellington yesterday. All were involved in the first 72 hours of the earthquake response.

Nelson consulting engineer principal civil engineer John Higginbotham said Nelson engineers were "very, very busy".

Mr Higginbotham said he had an engineer based in Christchurch and there was "plenty of work down there". However, he said the December 2011 floods in Nelson, with over 800 claims, was making his phone ring off the hook. At the same time councils were pursuing the seismic strengthening of buildings, creating more work for experienced engineers.

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"The reality is I would say most engineers are overloaded with work. I would compare it to being a doctor at the time of the plague."

Adcock & Donaldson contracts manager Luke Donaldson said his company had been flat out completing infrastructure works in Christchurch, with seven staff there since about March 2012. The staff were subcontracted to Downers Engineering and were mainly laying drainage and other basic infrastructure. If the company could spare more workers they would send more, but he considered the city to be a source of solid, reliable work.

He expected the region to provide work for his company for at least another five years. "Work that you don't have to chase, that is almost handed to you."

Other Nelson businesses have joined forces to bid for work in the next stage of the rebuild, under the collaborative cluster "Project".

Chairman Paul Brockie said the not-for-profit organisation has 16 members, including business architecture, interior design, building and renovation, project management, electrical, labour supply and raw material supply. Representatives travelled to the city in August to meet with those involved in the rebuild.

The cluster would also work with local agencies, such as the Nelson Tasman Housing Trust, to look at building affordable housing for local residents, he said.

As much work as possible would be done in the Nelson region, but some businesses would send staff down to the city.

Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said the rebuild was picking up steam. Businesses outside the region could take advantage of the opportunities, but the key was to work with other businesses in the city, he said. The chamber had set up a website, Collaborate Canterbury, to match Christchurch businesses with those from outside the region.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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