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Chief Executive's Upfront
Pro-Wood Government Procurement Not The Answer

Monday, 19 February 2018  
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When a construction project is undertaken, the principals should be free to choose the most suitable building materials.  Selection should be based on quality, cost, aesthetic and general fit-for-purpose credentials.

Rob Gaimster, Chief Executive

They should not be strongly persuaded to use a material that is not necessarily the best fit for the job. Yet this is exactly what the Labour Party’s Forestry policy will do.

The policy states that there will be a shift in government procurement to a much stronger orientation towards building in wood. The policy includes requirements that:

  • all government-funded project proposals for new buildings up to 10 storeys high shall require a build-in-wood option at the initial concept / request-for-proposals stage (with indicative sketches and price estimates) 
  • when [Government is] a tenant of the private sector, give preference to new buildings that are constructed out of wood. 

While forestry plays an important role in helping to achieve New Zealand’s emissions target, and wood can enhance our built environment, that does not mean wood is the best material for every construction project. 

There will be unintended consequences of the pro-wood policy, and if implemented it would create instances where the Government’s building programme (including KiwiBuild) is disadvantaged by excluding safer, more cost efficient, and more durable material options. 
Furthermore, the policy would create a commercial advantage for one construction material over others. 

Materials should be selected on their own merits. This is in the public interest. It is entirely wrong to mandate that construction decision makers must consider wood as a structural option. Such arbitrary preferential treatment of one industry over another will lead to perverse outcomes. 

There are many examples of the fire risk posed by multi-storey timber construction.  Having to rely solely on sprinkler systems to provide fire safety rather than on both the inherent fire-resistant qualities of construction materials such as concrete and sprinklers, puts lives at risk.

We are still grappling with the aftermath of the leaky building crisis and currently spending millions of dollars repairing damaged homes, schools and apartment buildings.

Building environment rating tools, such as Green Star, have gained acceptance over recent years, and offer an objective assessment of the benefits of construction materials. 

In addition, the policy does a huge dis-service to the hardworking men and women in the cement and concrete industries. Favouring a single construction material during the design phase of a government building could seriously impact on their livelihoods and jobs.

Resilient infrastructure and housing are central to ensuring the economic success and welfare of all New Zealanders. Builders, architects, engineers, planners and their clients should not feel constrained when choosing the best building material for a construction project.  

With construction activity forecast to remain buoyant, the Government must not play favourites. It should operate in the public interest and ensure that the safety, cost and long-term sustainability of New Zealand’s buildings and infrastructure under-pin decision making.