The big picture of our aggregates sector from its main representative association. Roger Parton, CEO, Aggregate and Quarry Association.
PART OF THE BRIEF for this article was to review 2016 successes, so by the most important measure of all, the quarrying industry has had a much better year than previously.
As I write at late November 2016, quarrying across the country headed to the year’s end with no fatalities recorded compared to the black year of 2015 when four deaths took place.
That deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated; most quarries have really been working at lifting their game on health and safety.
However, as we head into 2017, some smaller quarries in particular face a real challenge meeting the December 31 deadline for all quarries to have qualified, competency-proven managers in place.
Some small quarries may not be in a position to legally re-open in 2017 as WorkSafe increases compliance requirements. WorkSafe continues to target an estimated 1000+ unregistered quarries, mostly small backblock operations producing low volumes but presenting the highest health and safety risks. We look forward to the promised review of quarry-specific regulations which will clarify the requirements for the industry.
The economy continues to enjoy good growth, in what some commentators were earlier calling ‘rock star’ performance, a term the quarry industry rather likes! While quarries are certainly continuing to benefit from good ongoing demand for aggregate, there are signals that things have flattened a little. Agriculture plays an important part in the economy via limestone.
However, roadmaking and building dominate demand. The building industry softened in 2015 to use 10 million tonnes of aggregate following three years of growth from six million to 11.7 million tonnes in 2014.
We produced some 39 million tonnes of assorted aggregates in 2015 – down from 42 million in 2014 (revised figures from NZ Petroleum and Minerals). This equates to 8.5 tonnes per capita in 2015, just a little down on the 2014 figures.
What is interesting to note is that in 2005, the industry produced a record nearly 12 tonnes for every man, woman and child. Canterbury has of course had a bumper few years since the 2010/11 earthquakes but that is starting to level out as the rebuild loses momentum, though it is still second only to Auckland in production.
Auckland’s biggest challenge remains meeting demand and delivering it.
The AQA recently commissioned a review of the often-stated quote about the cost of aggregate ‘doubling every 30 kilometres it is carried’.
While that remains broadly true for the first 30 kilometres and costs do continue to mount, the level of increase does generally moderate after the first 30 kilometres. In Auckland, however, the issue is the time trucks spend on the road, not the distance travelled. We can only hope that the major roading programme for our biggest city will eventually ease the gridlock which often plagues it.
The triennial elections for local authorities – around 70 councils – saw a number of new mayors, including in Auckland and Wellington, elected along with many new councillors. The quarry sector is now looking to newly-elected councils to get a sense of any improvement in council policies which have tended to rope off access to urban/urban fringe quarry sites. There are particular concerns with Auckland, as our largest city, where the council recently signalled it wants to do away with a current dividing line between rural and urban parts of the city to assist with accelerating house prices and increasing demand for new homes.
Quarries fear this could see urban encroachment on the few remaining areas where quarries operate within the greater Auckland area.
A number of other councils are also implementing new 10-year district plans which uphold the controversial Supreme Court decision which maintains that no economic activity can take place in areas of outstanding natural landscape. These plans are seen as potentially meaning adverse and perverse impacts on quarries such as no longer being able to extract river shingle in flood zones which sit in areas of outstanding natural landscape.
The AQA continues its efforts to promote to all politicians the need for a better understanding of the importance of quarries to New Zealand’s economic progress and our commitment to sustainable environmental management.
Our industry chose the country’s leading wine region – Marlborough – as the venue for its 2016 conference. Quarries from the adjoining region of Canterbury took out most of the industry honours.
Road Metals won the awards for safety, engineering, operations and quarry leadership.
Road Metals’ Murray Francis and health and safety manager Amanda Burke accepted the GBC Winstone Aggregates Safety Award from WorkSafe’s Mark Pizey.
Three Canterbury quarries won annual MIMICO environmental awards with Isaacs Construction getting special recognition for its unique model where all its commercial activities – quarrying, dairy farming and a salmon farm – finance the conservation goals of its Trust owners. Perversely, Isaacs was one of 10 Canterbury quarries which had a bid to dig deeper at existing sites rejected by ECAN commissioners, partly on the basis of supposedly poor environmental management. It is appealing the decision.
The 2017 industry conference is in Auckland in July and is being redesigned to allow attendees to gain the maximum Continuing Professional Development hours.
That signals the increasing professionalism and maturity of our quarry sector. We are determined to do our best to look after everyone who works in our industry and the communities and businesses we serve.
As this article was being finalised, the earthquakes affecting Kaikoura, Marlborough, North Canterbury and even Wellington occurred with considerable damage to homes, commercial buildings, farms, businesses and infrastructure. Most of the repair work will require aggregates in one form or another for roading, concrete, railway ballast and bitumen.
The aggregates industry will respond as it has done in the past but its ability to do so sometimes is curtailed by planning issues that either frustrate access to or sterilise aggregate resources for this important work.
Local and regional authorities must be aware that the industry’s ability to help them very much depends on their willingness to ensure aggregates can be extracted as close as possible to the location where they are to be used.