Record crane numbers ease as infrastructure spending increases

6 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineOctober 1, 2019

According to the Rider Levett Bucknall Q3 2019 RLB Crane Index released 20 September, the number of cranes standing tall across New Zealand cities has eased slightly from the record numbers seen six months ago.

There are currently 131 long-term cranes sighted across the country (95 in Auckland, 10 in Queenstown, nine in Christchurch, six each in Wellington and Tauranga, four in Hamilton and one in Dunedin), equating to a net decrease of 17 cranes since the last edition six months ago.

“While we‘ve experienced an easing of crane numbers across New Zealand for the first time since 2017, and Auckland‘s crane count is also down for the first time since 2014, overall construction activity remains strong and at record levels,” said RLB director Chris Haines.

“There has been a noticeable increase in infrastructure spending and projects with 22 long-term cranes now on projects nationwide, particularly in Auckland which has more than 90% of the country‘s long-term civil cranes. This is a strong pipeline of work ahead for rail, water, runways, busways and public realm type works,” he said.

According to RLB, as infrastructure projects are increasing, the progress in the recent ‘Mega‘ building projects has seen crane numbers drop (at Precinct‘s Commercial Bay, the International Convention Centre and 277 Westfield in Newmarket). There are limited future building projects of similar scale to back-fill these in the current pipeline.

The RLB Crane Index confirms the country‘s residential sector still accounts for 41% (54) of all cranes counted, highlighting the volume of apartment projects still under construction.

Overall retail long-term cranes dropped significantly due to the opening of the $750m Westfield Newmarket development, advanced progress at Commercial Bay and Sylvia Park, and the near completion of the new Ballantynes building in Christchurch. Retail cranes across the country fell from 18 cranes to six, with 12 cranes removed from projects across Auckland (nine) and Christchurch (three).

There is now only one education crane across the country, which perhaps signifies more uncertainty in the current tertiary sector.

“One of the largest crane companies in the North Island, Tower Cranes NZ, went into receivership last month, adding to general uncertainty within the construction industry,” said Haines. “Some in the industry have said this was primarily due to their rapid expansion and ongoing debts from failed main contractors such as Eberts.” 

The hotel sector encountered the greatest amount of churn these past six months with six new cranes erected and 10 removed, leaving 10 hotel cranes nationally. According to RLB, the biggest fall was in Christchurch with nine cranes removed from sites. Interestingly, there are now more long-term cranes in Queenstown (10) compared with the much larger city of Christchurch (nine), as the resort town is boosted by on-going tourism related projects and infrastructure supporting growth in Central Otago.

Auckland maintains its dominance across New Zealand with residential cranes

The RLB Crane Index confirmed that Auckland is contributing more than 72% of all long-term cranes observed for this edition. The South Island major centres accounted for just over 15% of the country‘s cranes.

“The churn has been very high with almost 100% of cranes removed from sites across Auckland positioned on new sites, which highlights the ongoing buoyancy within the market,” said Haines.

Auckland‘s residential cranes account for 85% of all the residential cranes in New Zealand and 35% of all cranes nationally. New sightings included tower cranes on AUT‘s Wakefield Street student accommodation project, and for the Auckland City Mission new accommodation shelter. This is representative of the historical shift towards the intensification of housing close to transportation hubs as part of the Unitary Plan through multi-unit dwellings such as apartments and townhouses.

In the civil infrastructure sector, there have been 11 new cranes placed: four for the Americas Cup (2021) wharfs and bases, two at the SH1 widening, busway and bridge works in Rosedale, the Ferry Terminal at Downtown and the Ameti busway, with a single crane at the Port of Auckland‘s multi story carpark.

“The Auckland hotel sector has seen the dismantling of seven cranes during the past six months, and three new tower cranes equating to six currently standing. Many Auckland hotel projects have 2021 completion dates to coincide with both the America‘s Cup Challenge in March 2021 and APEC Economics Leaders‘ meeting in November 2021,” said Haines.