Quake builders' work at standstill

By Shelley Robinson -
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee. Photo / NZPA
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee. Photo / NZPA

Builders are laying off staff and say they face economic ruin in Christchurch because insurance companies and Fletcher EQR are taking too long to approve earthquake work.

Small building companies that have hired staff and bought hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment are now sitting idle waiting for work.

A spokesman for Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said the minister was aware of the issue but referred questions to the Earthquake Commission and Fletcher EQR - the company which carries out EQC work.

Quantity surveyor company QS Red, which deals with more than 100 builders, said there was increasing despair and stress in the building sector.

"These builders were told to 'gear up' for this huge rebuild and so they did," said QS Red owner Victoria Whitta. "I have had grown men in tears in our offices over the last few weeks, it breaks my heart. These guys are experienced builders and business owners."

She said the problem was with the insurance companies' project managers.

"The project managers are changed four, five, six times and every time they do that they bring in a new engineer or change something or need to get things repriced," she said. "I have a builder with $3 million worth of work on his desk but can't start work because they are held up by the PMO [project management office]."

A builder who did not want be named for fear of being black-listed by insurance companies said two friends had closed their businesses and he "wouldn't be far behind".

"I've got my boys doing bookwork when I have a million dollars' worth of work sitting here," he said. "I can't hang on for much longer, maybe a few months. I have shed a tear or two, it's awful. I have work until September with six guys on, what do I do?"

Insurance Council spokesman Samson Samasoni said they were aware of a "handful of disgruntled builders" but their complaints had to be seen in context.

"Since the programme proper could kick off 10 months ago, insurers have been through an exacting process putting in place their PMOs, then selecting and pre-qualifying the licensed building practitioners and the professionals they're working with."

He said the busiest part of the rebuild was yet to come.

"We're also aware that some builders ... have quite simply not been selected by customers where it's the customer's prerogative to choose who they want to work with."

Fletcher EQR spokesman Barry Akers said 100,000 repairs and emergency repairs had been completed, including 40,000 full repairs. He said they were aware of the builders' complaints.

Certified Builders Association spokesman Graeme White said the situation was very frustrating.

"They [the builders] geared up because the insurance companies told them to and the work has not turned up.

"We know the big workload is coming, we are just waiting for the big wheel to start turning," he said. "We have had people turn up to get work from other districts and they have gone home because there isn't any."

- The Star

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