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Contractor (Perspectives 2016) Concrete Confidence in 2016

01 Feb 2016

Rob Gaimster
Cement & Concrete Association of New Zealand (CCANZ)

Informed by construction metrics, government projections and positive results achieved over the past twelve months, 2016 looks set to yield further outcomes that benefit the wider building sector.

Along with addressing emergent issues in 2016, the concrete industry will explore apartment build opportunities, and continue to place a premium on ‘quality’, robust regulation and training.

REFLECTING ON 2015

One of the best mechanisms to help gauge future activity is to assess the recent past, and 2015 was (with few exceptions) a very productive year for the building sector.

Construction in Auckland and Christchurch was pivotal to the positive signs, and with support from most of the regions, these centres continued to perform at a pleasing level.

The general air of confidence from 2014 carried over into 2015, with consents issued, work put in-place and ready mixed concrete volumes all sustaining upwards movement.

The concrete industry maintained a strong market position in relation to other materials, and experienced an increase in ready mixed concrete production of over 10 per cent nationwide. In total approximately 3.8 million cubic metres of concrete was produced - close to historic highs.

Notable concrete based projects that grabbed headlines in 2015 were the Waterview Connection in Auckland and MacKays-to-Peka Peka just north of Wellington – both examples of the huge amount of work currently underway as part of the Roads of National Significance.

The 15,000 cubic metres of concrete poured into the foundation of the new acute services building at Christchurch Hospital in November was further evidence of the rebuilds steady continuation.

Although there were signs of a deceleration in terms of ‘growth’ during the latter part of 2015 the outlook for 2016 remains encouraging.

PROGRESS CONTINUED IN 2016

Mid-2015 saw commentators begin to lament the drop in global dairy prices (and in turn famers’ spend), a levelling off in the Canterbury rebuild and rising unemployment as leading to a fall in economic confidence.

While optimism did fade mid-year, by the end of 2015 these same commentators were talking about economic growth “gathering pace” and businesses expecting “improved performance”.

A quick look at major projects scheduled for 2016 shows that the Auckland CBD will effectively be a construction zone, with the City Rail Link, the International Convention Centre and numerous office and apartment towers all about to get underway.

In Christchurch a recent Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce survey of key decision makers in the rebuild indicated that progress was between 35 and 40 per cent. Similarly, a CERA report from July estimated the rebuild – measured as progress in residential, non-residential and civil construction – was 41 per cent complete. So, there is a lot more work to come.

National Construction Pipeline Report
One of the clearest forecasts that in 2016 (and beyond) the value of all building and will reach unprecedented levels is MBIE’s National Construction Pipeline Report 3. Prepared by Pacifecon (NZ) Ltd and BRANZ, the report provides a view of construction demand for the six years ending 2020.

Amongst the Report’s top-level findings is that New Zealand is building more by value than ever before, even after allowing for inflation. The Report also projects that the annual value of all building nationally will increase by 19 per cent from 2013 to 2020.

The Report identifies notable trends, including Auckland’s domination of the national demand for building (accounting for over a third of all building, by value). There is also a move to higher density housing (in 2017 multi-unit dwellings will make up a third of all new consented dwellings).

CONCRETE OPPORTUNITIES IN 2016

The next twelve months will be an exciting time for the wider concrete industry, not just on the back of a healthy building sector and concrete production.

There will be opportunities to grow residential market share via demand for medium density housing, as well as demonstrate the industry’s commitment to robust regulation and training. ‘Quality’ will remain a priority in 2016, in terms of material supply as well as design and construction, while major changes in cement supply will also come into operation.

This is taking place against a backdrop of concrete industry association consolidation discussion.

Apartment Living
Driven by increased levels of immigration, a lack of available land and lifestyle choices, the demand for medium density residential construction is of huge interest to the concrete industry.

A recent CCANZ study confirms that concrete offers benefits over other materials in terms of cost (upfront and long term maintenance) and performance (fire, acoustic and seismic). As such, the concrete industry will be working to help architects, structural engineers and developers understand the advantages of ‘quality’ concrete design and construction for apartment buildings.

Commitment to Quality
‘Quality’ extends beyond best practice advice through to the control of concrete as a material. This is evident in the NZRMCA Plant Audit Scheme which operates to provide a rigorous audit of the quality systems in place at ready mixed concrete plants.

Similarly, Precast NZ’s Plant Certification Program provides a level of confidence that products from a Certified Plant are supplied from an established operator and a plant with appropriate manufacturing facilities and quality assurance programs.

Both these systems are subject to continual improvement, with the NZRMCA Scheme completing its online transition during 2016, and the Precast NZ Program anticipated to achieve greater uptake.

Standards and Training
Updated versions of key concrete Standards will come into play during 2016. The recently revised NZS 3121 Water and Aggregate for Concrete now caters for recycled concrete as aggregate, as well as offering additional tests for aggregate cleanliness.

An amendment to NZS 3101 Concrete Structures Standard that takes into account recommendations from the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission will also be available in the coming months

During 2016 the concrete industry, in association with the BCITO, will announce the inaugural Concrete Apprentice of the Year Award. This is just one (albeit high-profile) example of the industry’s pledge to train well in order to negate the skills shortage, which has become a huge strategic issue across the building sector.

Understanding and meeting responsibilities under the new Health and Safety at Work Act will also be an important matter during 2016.

Cement Supply Landscape
The cement supply market in New Zealand has changed over recent years as the introduction of internationally sourced product has become more prevalent.

Holcim (NZ) Ltd’s move to importing bulk cement for supply will come on stream in 2016 with the completion of terminals in Timaru and Auckland, along with the closure of its Westport works.

Golden Bay Cement has also invested heavily in distribution infrastructure as it implements the capability to supply the South Island direct from its Whangarei plant.

While these developments are significant, rigorous ‘quality’ control remains a priority through company operational practice backed-up by robust cement (and concrete) regulation, including the recently amended NZS 3122 Specification for Portland and Blended Cements.

Association Consolidation
Initiated at the 2014 Concrete Conference and progressed during 2015, the discussion around association consolidation across the concrete industry will reach a critical stage in 2016.

Inline with developments in other industries in New Zealand and internationally, the potential amalgamation of the six principal concrete industry associations as a means to achieve more efficient and effective outcomes has to-date been well-received by the majority of stakeholders.

2017 AND BEYOND

The current Government has done a tremendous amount of work to negate the boom-bust cycle, helping to address internal systems and behaviour as the primary causes, as well as off-setting external factors.

However, it is always wise to implement interventions and policies today that lessen volatility tomorrow.

Article appeared in Contractor - Perspectives 2016 magazine.