New Zealand has 144 high-rise long-term tower, fixed and crawler cranes in seven cities and towns, up 6 per cent on 136 cranes earlier this year in pandemic-defying resilience.
Quantity surveying firm and cost consultancy Rider Levett Bucknall today released its quarterly crane index, showing 96 cranes up in Auckland, 16 in Wellington, eight in Queenstown, five in Tauranga, four in Christchurch, four in Hamilton and one in Dunedin.
The data was released at a time all Auckland cranes are standing still, due to the highest Covid alert level which bans all but emergency construction activity.
Asked if the timing was ironic, RLB director Chris Haines said yesterday: "Slightly, yes. It's a blip and hopefully, our last one holding construction back. There is a lot of work to get built out there. I'm feeling confident they will be moving later next week."
But the index showed how the construction sector had defied Covid, with crane numbers not falling significantly.
"The New Zealand construction activity has proven to be much more resilient than expected last year during the second and third quarters [of 2020] when uncertainty over how the Covid-19 pandemic would play out in reduced confidence," RLB said in its commentary.
Tāmaki Makaurau's building sector was particularly strong.
"Despite the lockdowns, delays in material supply, increased shipping costs and pressure on local labour resources due to the impacts of Covid-19, Auckland's construction market has proved remarkably resilient with the net addition of 18 construction cranes on projects over the past six months," RLB said.
Haines said the city dominated the sector.
"Auckland's status as the engine room of New Zealand continues with its 96 cranes accounting for two-thirds of all cranes sighted across the main centres.
"This is the second-highest total number of cranes sighted in Auckland after 16 editions of the RLB Crane Index over the last eight years. Construction in the city has certainly bounced back strongly, which is a combination of a buoyant residential sector and a strong civil infrastructure sector, which includes some shovel ready projects now on-site," Haines said.
The non-residential sector has 83 long-term cranes nationally, up from 75 cranes in this year's first quarter.
The civil and infrastructure sector is strong partly due to the Government's shovel ready scheme. This part of the sector has 28 long-term cranes - a new high, up from 25 cranes in this year's first quarter.
Residential sites nationally have 61 long-term cranes, the same number as this year's first quarter.
"In Auckland, there has been a high churn rate of residential cranes: 19 removed and 19 put in place of the last six months. The sector remains strong but current supply issues and escalation pressures are making fixed pricing and lump-sum prices sometimes challenging in the market," Haines said.
Banks were increasingly demanding fixed-price contracts and lower risk profiles. These constraints on lending to developers were seeing continued reliance on second-tier lenders and mezzanine funding, he noted.
Christchurch-headquartered Smith Cranes says it is New Zealand's largest crane hire business and has nearly 100 cranes in its fleet.
"Our mobile crane fleet ranges in capacity from 1 tonne to the country's largest crane of 550 tonnes. Our crawler cranes range from 2.9 tonnes to 600 tonnes. Our tower crane fleet includes New Zealand's largest - the 40-tonne Liebherr Hammerhead," Smith Cranes says.
The business is run by the family of long-standing politician Nick Smith and headed by brother Tim Smith. It has a fleet of 37 tower cranes, which can reach up to 200m and lift up to 96 tonnes, and 20 crawler cranes that can lift up to 600 tonnes.
Managing director Tim Smith said: "Sometimes our cranes are hired out for months or up to two or three years at a time. We have 170 cranes on sites currently, coming and going. Auckland is about half our market. Half our fleet is elsewhere. We're busy buying machines from Europe and Asia. Cranes can cost up to $15m each. Our cranes average between $750,000 and $1m or upwards of that."
Large crawlers were used in infrastructure "and we've got a job to put up a heap of wind turbines near Palmerston North", he said, referring to Mercury's Turitea Wind Farm renewable energy development in the Manawatū-Whanganui region.
Smiths had tower cranes on the $750m NZ International Convention Centre for some time as well, he recalled, but had none there now.
Smith said his brother Nick was a special projects engineer working at Turitea.
"He's going good, he's great value. He's a public servant. I might have to work hard to get some work out of him. We've got about half a dozen cranes there."
Haines pointed to many cranes remaining on our skylines in the near future.
"The forward pipeline remains very strong with building consents for the country up by 17.7 per cent for the 12 months to June. Total consents for the 12 months totalled $26.4b, up from $22.5b for the 12 months to June last year," he said.
Consents rose in all regions, which gave confidence about levels of activity remaining strong nationally, he said.
"Residential and non-residential consents increased substantially over the past 12 months to June with increases of 19.7 per cent and 13.1 per cent respectively," Haines said.
Material supply issues, cost escalation and a lack of construction sector workers due to border restrictions were challenges.
"Solving the material supply constraints and oversees skilled worker shortages will be a key focus for the industry next year," Haines said.