The chief of a big prefabricated home-building company now in receivership tried desperately to save the business but debts mounted to around $2 million, he said.
Sean Murrie, chief executive and a director of Trentham-headquartered Matrix Homes, spoke out for the first time about reasons for the failure, citing lack of orders and slow planning regime changes.
"I'm gutted. I did everything I could to stop it happening, working very hard for a very long time. I could not secure the investment I needed. It was a comparatively minor amount and the shareholders did all they could," Murrie said last night.
Asked how much creditors were owed, he said: "It would be more than $2 million, there's no chance of it being as high as $3 million."
Receivers appointed on July 18 are BDO Wellington's Iain Shephard and Jessica Kellow. The first report is yet to be issued.
Murrie said Matrix built around 100 homes during its three-year trading life. The factory was opened in February 2015 by the then-Finance Minister Bill English.
At the time, Murrie said of the 8000sq m Trentham factory in the ex-General Motors assembly plant: "People are building components of houses, then assembling them on the site. But the whole thing here is we're turning fully finished houses with code compliance certificates."
Asked last night who tipped the business into receivership, he said: "I did it. I had to. We could not continue to trade without being sure we could fund it."
He expressed concern about lack of orders and speed to enable the homes to be trucked to sites, but stressed that he was not pointing the finger at anyone in particular.
"It's a real shame. The rules were stacked against what we were doing. It's just taken too long. The Unitary Plan should have been done ages ago. I'm not trying to blame anyone for anything. It's just these things should have been quicker," Murrie said.
He also cited a lack of Housing NZ Corp orders and said although there were protracted discussions about buying stock, no orders materialised and that had not helped: "They kept delaying and delaying and delaying and never bought one.
"The Government has got to play its part if they're going to get serious about getting housing built," Murrie said.
The real shame about the Matrix receivership was that with KiwiBuild, times had never been better potentially for the prefab industry, Murrie said.
Another publication reported this week that up to 30 Matrix workers made redundant feel blindsided and are scrambling to find work to support their families.
Asked last night what went wrong, Murrie said: "Just being too ahead of the curve. Prefab now is quite well-accepted. But it wasn't a few years ago and the developers didn't accept it. This has all changed recently. Before the [Auckland] Unitary Plan, if anyone had a section, they wanted to put a big house on it. Rules encouraged bigger houses. We're just not in the big-house market. We're in the affordable housing. Developers were not interested in small houses."
Companies Office records show Matrix Homes directors are Christopher John Dunnett of Western Australia, Joseph Hannah of the United Arab Emirates, Murrie of Lyall Bay and Hugh Alexander Smith of Mt Victoria, Wellington. The shareholding is split 12 ways.
In 2015, Matrix said it was asking $89,000 for a 51sq m, one-bedroom home, $99,000 for a 70sq m two-bedroom place, $195,000 for 140sq m four-bedroom two-bathrooms homes but transport costs were an extra $10,000 in Wellington and $20,000 in Auckland.
Piles were included in Wellington transport costs but not in Auckland, Matrix said in information it supplied. Pile costs for Auckland were an extra $3000, Matrix Homes estimated at the time.
The Matrix website remains live and says: "Matrix is here to reinvent the way the classic New Zealand home is built. If you've been told that premium quality and contemporary design are out of your price range, then you haven't been told about Matrix."
Murrie said at the time Matrix was launched that if there was strong demand in Auckland, and he envisaged a second factory being established here.
Last night, he said Matrix was none of the biggest pre-fab house builder in the country. "Concision in Christchurch is the biggest," he said referring to the Rolleston factory.
"It's not the method of building houses that's the problem," he said of the Matrix receivership. "The old railway houses were built prefabricated and erected within two weeks and they're still around now so it's crazy to say prefabrication doesn't work."
He estimated about eight houses were still on the factory floor and yet to be completed and said many orders had come from the Wellington region and farther afield.
Legacy Property's Solution Street, which worked with Matrix Homes, showed a video earlier this year illustrating how three Matrix townhouse residences built at Trenthan were lifted into place on a Manurewa site.
"The units were built by Matrix Homes," Solution Street's Gary Gordon said of the project, where ground works took a few weeks. Gordon said Matrix was not the only prefab business he was dealing with. Mangere's Stanley Group - a partner of PrefabNZ - was also building for Solution Street, he said.
Solution Street is aiming to sell its prefab places to first-home buyers, targeting Auckland's cheapest suburbs where it is applying the fast construction techniques to keep costs down.