Tauranga's tradesmen shortage causing delays

By Michele Hunter -
1 comment
Harwood Homes project manager Neil Thompson. Photo/ John Borren
Harwood Homes project manager Neil Thompson. Photo/ John Borren

Building a house during Tauranga's construction boom is costing more and taking longer due to a shortage of tradesmen and rising costs of materials.

Classic Builders owner Peter Cooney said a number of factors were combining to create the perfect storm in the building industry.

The recession saw many of the city's skilled tradespeople leave for overseas or head to Christchurch for the earthquake re-build, which was taking longer than predicted, Mr Cooney said.

Construction in Auckland was also "soaking up the trades".

Meanwhile, recent bad weather had held up titles being released on sections, so builds due to start six weeks ago were banking up.

Classic Builders alone expected to build 300 homes in 2017.

"It's like putting one slab down a day. There's an awful lot of work out there," Mr Cooney said.

The huge volume of work was pushing the price of construction up as the cost of materials and labour rose.

Builders' pay rates were always up for negotiation. Constantly, Mr Cooney said.

Bricklayers were one of the main sub-trades difficult to find, meaning they could charge a premium for their work.

There was also work for more electricians and plumbers but local business owners could find no one to employ, he said.

Mr Cooney said the trades shortage was not delaying start of any major projects in Tauranga but was certainly slowing build times.

Venture Development's director Mark Fraser-Jones agreed saying increased production in the past 12 months, and a shortage of tradespeople, was having an effect on the time line for construction schedules.

"There is a limit to the amount of houses that can physically be built at any one time, which means some companies cannot build as many houses as they would like to at once."

Project manager for Tauranga's Harwood Homes, Neil Thompson, said the trades shortage combined with the new health and safety regulations were lengthening construction times, despite heavy demand.

Builders were often waiting for safety nets to be installed or removed on-site.

Mr Thompson said the Health and Safety at Work Act, which came into effect on April 4, added between $3000 to $6000 to a house build; a cost which was passed on to the client.

The requirements also added two to three weeks to the build time, which often cost the client more for rental or temporary accommodation.

Mr Fraser-Jones said it would cost Venture Developments well more than $1 million a year to meet its health and safety obligations.

"Adding scaffolding, nets, etc, adds another link in the production chain that can cause a possible delay."

Owner of Shaw Builders, Dave Shaw, said he believed paying good chippies well was the key to retaining the best staff.

Mr Shaw, who won New Zealand National Supreme House of the Year 2015 said he didn't have a lot of trouble attracting plumbers and tradesmen to his jobs.

"I think the type of work we've got, they probably quite enjoy it," he said. "It's just more satisfying."

The cost of materials was always going up but people were still going to build their homes, he said.

Accurately pricing large, complex builds was proving difficult as prices could rise 10 per cent during the 18-month period, he said.

"You don't get discounts in a market like this," Mr Shaw said.

He thought price increases overall had settled down in the past year.

But he recently employed a full-time project manager and health and safety person, which was a significant additional cost.

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