Will NZ avert another building supplies crisis?

It was only eight months ago that builders desperate to finish their jobs took to Trademe to secure Gib Board. The panic and chaos caused by the dearth of locally produced plasterboard in one instance saw bidding for 26 sheets of Gib on Trademe top out at $5,100 (approximately six times the usual per-board price), according to Stuff. Soon after Fletcher Building-owned Winstone Wallboards stopped taking new orders.

Builders say the supply crisis is now over – or has eased, at least – following a drop in new building consents and construction activity, and better access to alternative plasterboard brands approved under the Building Code. Between January to October this year the amount of imported plasterboard increased by 444%, the government said.

Fletcher Building’s Auckland factory upgrade, which boosted GIB production from 2.9 million square metres to 3.25 million square pre metres month, will have released additional pressure. What’s more, the company’s new Tauranga factory, slated to open May 2023, is expected to increase domestic production by a further 30%. What a relief.

What’s being done to avert another supply chain crisis down the track?

The government says it is on the job, with the Minister for Building and Construction Megan Woods last month announcing a new taskforce to prevent building product shortages bringing the industry to a standstill.

Comprising industry experts and members of a six-person ministerial plasterboard taskforce established in June, the new taskforce will “watch for emerging supply chain risks in the industry, address any building material shortages, and focus on maximising productivity,” Woods said.

The new taskforce has a broader remit than its earlier incarnation, spanning the entire building supply chain and associated materials, of which around 90% are imported.

Taskforce member Julien Leys, chief executive of the Building Industry Federation, is confident the new group will get ahead of potential pinch points to ensure the country does not end up in the situation it did with Gib.

In the meantime, the government last week announced moves to increase competition in the residential building supplies sector, including easier access to alternative building products to improve choice and competition.

All bets off?

With the government flagging more materials shortages and “headwinds” in the future due to continuing global turmoil, the real test facing the new taskforce is yet to come.

Right now, for example, the supply of sand – a core constituent in construction – is looking a little shaky. A recent decision by commissioners following a resource consent hearing last year will see the end of a decades-old agreement to mine sand from the sea floor north of Auckland, potentially causing a supply crisis for concrete in Auckland.

Let’s hope the taskforce is more than a ‘watching and talking shop’.

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