Workers could commute to Christchurch

Construction business consultant Graham Williams, of Dunedin, is tasked with helping Dunedin...
Construction business consultant Graham Williams, of Dunedin, is tasked with helping Dunedin companies secure a slice of Christchurch rebuilding work. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Commuter trains could be used to ferry Dunedin tradespeople to and from rebuilding jobs in Christchurch, to avoid a permanent exodus of workers and their families from the deep South.

The idea was among those to be considered in detail by construction business consultant Graham Williams, who was yesterday named as the Dunedin City Council facilitator tasked with handling Dunedin's response to the $30 billion rebuilding of Christchurch.

Council economic development unit manager Peter Harris said Dunedin faced significant risks, as well as rewards, that could be "bigger than ever imagined", from rebuilding activity in Christchurch.

"The amount of money that is going to be spent up there is really beyond anything that's ever happened in New Zealand.

"The risks to Dunedin are huge, and so are the opportunities."

That was because of the "huge labour shortage" expected in Christchurch, with estimates 26,000 tradespeople would be needed to complete the rebuilding, he said.

That demand meant a recruitment drive for skilled workers had begun, within New Zealand and internationally, and would continue for years, he said.

Some Dunedin firms, including plumbers and construction companies, were already transporting staff to Christchurch and back on rotation, he said.

The risk was Dunedin workers could spend so much time in Christchurch they would opt to base themselves there, and shift their families north to join them, Mr Harris said.

To avoid that, the council was considering how it could help Dunedin companies transport workers to and from Christchurch, to encourage worker rotation and keep their families in Dunedin, he said.

Trains, as well as extra buses and flights, were all being considered, and the council had already held "loose discussions" with some transport providers, which Mr Harris would not name yesterday.

More formal talks with transport providers could follow once Mr Williams had a better understanding of existing and future demand from Dunedin companies, Mr Harris said.

That could see Dunedin becoming a "feeder suburb" providing short-term rotating labour to Christchurch, while also targeting professional services and prefabrication work that could be completed in Dunedin, he said.

Mr Williams' role would also be to link Dunedin businesses with work opportunities in Christchurch, although it would then be up to individual companies to secure contracts, Mr Harris said.

Mr Williams said the opportunities for Dunedin were difficult to quantify, but "potentially very big".

There were already "vast" new subdivisions beginning to take shape in Christchurch to replace the city's thousands of red-zoned homes, but the building activity to date was "just the tip of the iceberg".

"It's a big volume of work.

"We're talking about billions of dollars and many tens of thousands of homes, which is unprecedented in one location in one span of time in New Zealand."

He believed the work should first be available for firms and workers in Christchurch, where they could meet demand, but Dunedin was "very well placed" to benefit as "the next cab off the rank".

One of Mr Williams' early tasks would be to identify the channels through which work was being distributed in Christchurch, and work with them to ensure Dunedin can "take our place in the pecking order".

Mr Harris said Mr Williams would divide his time between Dunedin and Christchurch, as well as between his council duties and private consultancy work, and was employed as a contractor with six-monthly reviews.

The council last year approved a $350,000 budget for the work, spread over two years, of which "about half" would go to Mr Williams, with travel, accommodation and other expenses on top, Mr Harris said.

The rest would provide a "fighting fund" for any promotional or other material that might be needed, although the $350,000 budget was not expected to be exhausted, Mr Harris said.

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