Covid 19 coronavirus Delta outbreak: Building product manufacturers prioritised as factories restart

By Amy Williams of RNZ

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment will today spell out how some Auckland factories can restart under level 4.

It will select essential building product manufacturers to prevent a freeze on housing construction during a nationwide shortage of building materials.

Builder Dave van de Geest has six homes under construction in north Canterbury, and even before the Delta outbreak had taken to ordering cladding months in advance of breaking ground because of shipping delays.

“Now it’s even worse. We have one two-storey place and we ordered the product up to four months ago. It looks like it’s not going to get into the country now ’til maybe October, which is a problem because you have a lot of expenses with scaffolding and keeping a project moving.”

And now other materials made here, such as Pink Batts insulation, have run out.

“If you don’t have insulation you can’t put on your interior wall linings and so the project stops. With, say, Pink Batts, everyone’s looking for alternative products,” van de Geest said.

“If you imagine everyone runs over to another product and that runs out pretty quickly as well.”

Auckland is the manufacturing hub for many building materials but the assembly lines were forced to stop during the lockdown.

To address the shortage, the government will allow the four most critical products to be produced in the city – plasterboard, gypsum plaster, coated roofing steel and insulation.

MBIE said manufacturers will need a high degree of evidence to support their request to resume production.

“This may include evidence of how the building products are a critical component of residential construction, evidence of there being limited building product supply in New Zealand, and evidence of health and safety measures in place to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission.”

It said the work will need to be undertaken with the minimum number of staff safely required and under alert level 4 rules, and it will release more information today.

The supplies co-operative for builders and tradies, CBS Co-op, has 600 members on its books across the country.

Spokesperson Mike Blackburn said it is a relief to know manufacturing can resume for crucial materials.

“It’s a great move. It’s probably a little bit too late than what it should have been, but certainly it’s a step in the right direction.”

But he said it could be weeks before building sites, mothballed from the shortages, can re-open.

“We’ve got builders all over the country who are simply out of certain building materials and their jobs have ground to a halt. I’m not sure exactly how long it’s going to take some of these manufacturing facilities to ramp up.”

And the disruption is putting economic pressure on builders.

“Builders who rely on the cash flow for running their business are going to find it really tough for probably the next couple of months till they can really catch up again.”

The Building Industry Federation represents firms in the supply chain, and is working with MBIE to re-open factories.

The federation’s chief executive Julien Leys said there could be as many as one hundred manufacturers up-and-running again by next week.

“It hopefully will mean that those materials start flowing back into the building and construction sector within the week and those people can be re-engaged to start building houses again.”

But this will take time.

“In the case of insulation you’ve got to get a furnace started again and heated up before it can start manufacturing Pink Batts. Other manufacturing processes also take some time but then there’s the fact that the distribution chain needs to then sort through those products there’s been some congestion.”

And for builders, every day is crucial.

Van de Geest builds to a fixed price and says the rise in the cost of materials is affecting his bottom line.

“You build your magin and you go through and figure out there’s so many dollars I should get out of this project to run my business and there’s less, there’s just less you know we’re not going to lose but there will be people that will lose that have priced it far too tight.”

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