Locals lose out to China

By Joseph Aldridge


The centrepiece of Whangarei's new harbour bridge will be made in China, upsetting a local engineering firm that says the council has a responsibility to support local businesses.

Culham Engineering was one of three companies which made a bid to build the lifting platform for the city's new bascule bridge. The council says it would have liked to have awarded the job to a local firm but the price difference was too big.

The Whangarei District Council this week announced the job had been awarded to a Chinese company that offered significant cost savings and was able to deliver the platform months before competitors.

Culham's managing director Shane Culham acknowledges his company's bid was not the cheapest but said he believed ratepayers would be happy to pay more to ensure their money was spent locally.

"Spend a couple of million dollars in ratepayers' money in Whangarei as opposed to sending $2 million elsewhere. We're sending all of our ratepayers' money to China. I don't know how well that gels with the ratepayers."

Whangarei businesses are struggling to maintain staff during tough economic times and the council was not helping by sending work offshore, Mr Culham said.

"We've always been a parochial company, always looked after the north, always put our money back into the north and back into the business and providing jobs for people. It's just really disappointing on the council's part."

"This job is going to cost people their jobs in Whangarei. It's going to cost the ratepayers in terms of people spending their money in Whangarei."

The job would have given Culhams the ability to hire more apprentices but now the company will be scrambling to keep its employees busy, he said.

However, the council says the price difference was just too much.

Culham's bid was about $790,000 more expensive than the Chinese price, WDC infrastructure services group manager Simon Weston said.

The Chinese were also able to build and deliver the lifting platform, which includes the two rolling J-beams, about two and a half months quicker than Culhams, he said.

The other New Zealand bidder offered a slightly cheaper price than Culhams but needed 10 months to complete the job, compared to the five months the Chinese offered.

The council may have been able to bend on the timing demands if the pricing had been more competitive, Mr Weston said.

"The issue is we've got such a big number on the table between the two players."

"I think everybody would like to see work within Whangarei ... but when you've got some big numbers I can imagine that there will be a number of people who would say we shouldn't be paying extra for that privilege."

Culhams said the company had identified potential cost savings in the project but the council's contractor, McConnell Dowell, had not engaged with them to explore their ideas.

Mr Weston said McConnell Dowell had done as much as it could to ascertain the best bidder.

"All along we would have liked to see Culhams pick something up and it's just unfortunate."

- Northern Advocate

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