12 Sep 2023

Another 15,000 workers may be needed for rebuild efforts

7:01 am on 12 September 2023
Puketapu bridge in Hawke's Bay - swept away in Cyclone Gabrielle

Puketapu bridge was swept away in Cyclone Gabrielle, one of many pieces of vital infrastructure that is part of a massive rebuild effort. Photo: RNZ / Lauren Crimp

As the recovery from this year's wild weather wears on, infrastructure experts project almost 15,000 extra construction workers could be needed at the peak of the effort to get the job done.

Projections from the Infrastructure Commission Te Waihanga paint a picture out to 2029 of the scale of the recovery from Cyclones Gabrielle and Hale, and the Auckland Anniversary floods.

At its peak - the last quarter of 2025 - 14,859 extra workers could be needed for the pipeline of roading, rail, water, and energy projects on the go.

But that is only as things stand right now.

Te Waihanga general manager of strategy Geoff Cooper said now that the figures were laid bare in an online tool, decision-makers in the sector could assess workforce capacity against the work that lay ahead of them.

"Asset owners and infrastructure providers are going to look at this and go: 'Is this project deliverable?'"

Cooper said the numbers were not estimates, but projections - which would change as the information was digested and factored into planning.

It would help industry players see the whole puzzle, rather than just their piece, and it could force the sector to change how it phased the rebuild.

Photo: Supplied/ NZ Infrastructure Commission

"We're expecting the sector themselves to look at it and course correct if they need to.

"This really is about us understanding what's the process for prioritisation. What projects are essential that we get across the line early because they're critical infrastructure works or lifelines ... connections that we absolutely have to have to enable economic activity and social connections to occur.

"So there's a reprioritisation here that has to happen."

The projections would evolve as plans were laid and projects got underway.

But it was not just the actual works that the sector - and the government - needed to consider.

"These ancillary services that you need to wrap around the rebuild, things like housing, are going to be quite material and instrumental to how fast you can go," Cooper said.

Badly damaged road overlooking the beach at Titirangi.

Paturoa Road in Auckland's Titirangi was badly damaged by floods during Auckland Anniversary Weekend, in January. Photo: The Detail/Sharon Brettkelly

Civil Contractors New Zealand chief executive Alan Pollard said the industry was working on a big overseas recruitment drive, and some people like forestry workers had changed tack to pick up construction jobs.

But he still worried there would not be enough hands on deck.

"There's a lot of stress in the industry at the moment, because people are working extremely hard under extremely trying conditions to try and meet the requirements of the current workload, and we've got to up that for when the future workload comes on stream."

The current immigration settings were not helping, he said.

"If you look at the immigration pathway, very few of the visa settings have civil construction roles on them.

"We were fortunate to have a couple of roles added pre-Christmas to the green list, but some of particularly the lower skilled visa categories - there are no civil workers on there at all, and that has to change."

Picture taken 28/2/23 showing a growing gulf in SH5 between Te Pohue and Glengarry which has suffered extensive damage overnight following more heavy rainfall in the area. The slip caused by Cyclone Gabrielle has moved further overnight, making that drop out larger.

State Highway 5 between Glengarry and Te Pōhue, in Hawke's Bay, suffered extensive damage during Cyclone Gabrielle Photo: Supplied: Waka Kotahi

On the other side of planning, prioritisation and building were people - waiting to move on with their lives.

The Tūtaekurī river split the rural Hawke's Bay community of Puketapu in two after the bridge was swept away during Cyclone Gabrielle.

Puketapu pub owner Mary Danielson said it was taking its toll, with locals suffering from the loss of connection.

"It affects us terribly, the whole community, we used to be called Puketapu, and now we're Puketapu North and Puketapu South."

It was toughest for those south of the river, she said.

"They can't get over here as easy, it takes a long time for children to come to school. It's not helped depression, it's very very bad not having that bridge there."

They will be without it for at least another year.

But Danielson worried that would drag on, with so much other work to do to rebuild Hawke's Bay.

After all, it was just one bridge, in one small community, in one of many regions hammered by storms this year.

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