27 Mar 2017

Firms look at cruise ship housing option for Auckland rail link workers

6:19 am on 27 March 2017

Chinese state-owned enterprises are in talks to house hundreds of workers on a cruise ship off Auckland if they win huge rail contracts.

Auckland harbour

Proposed cruise ship housing would accommodate between 500 and 2000 workers. Photo: 123RF

The companies are among bidders lining up for Auckland's $3.5 billion City Rail Link.

John Dalzell, spokesperson for one joint venture, said it could be the first time a Chinese state-owned enterprise builds a big project in this country.

The firms also had an eye to not adding to Auckland's accommodation shortage.

"You've really got to think about about a broad spectrum... anything from just getting material into the site but also how you can get workers in, and where those workers are accommodated," said Mr Dalzell of Silk Road Management.

A cruise ship off Auckland was "an option".

"I don't know if it's a solution yet but it's certainly an option.

"The only issue there I think is one of integration into the community. A number of them have families and those families need to be feeling like they're integrated into the community, schooling, all of that - there's actually a lot to think about."

Mr Dalzell is not naming the Chinese state enterprises he represents, nor say which of the six remaining rail link contracts they want.

The biggest of those contracts, to build stations and tunnels, is at a stage where companies, typically in joint ventures, jockey to qualify for the right to bid.

One local, Andy Tomlinson of Anglo Tasman, has met with Mr Dalzell to talk the option of a cruise ship housing between 500 and 2000 rail link workers off Auckland.

"We've mooted a few things around the traps. John is probably the first one to sort of put his head above the parapet and say yeah, that looks as if it could work, it's a sound idea.

"But there'll be other people interested to look at it if they are also bringing in external workers."

Mr Tomlins said his experience of using a retired cruise ship and high-end worker's camp at a nickel mine in New Caledonia proved it could work in Auckland.

He said Auckland needed to think through the accommodation challenge from all its big projects before it became a dilemma.

A sign on Victoria Street, Auckland, where work on the City Rail Link project is already under way.

The rail link is taking about six years to build. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

CRL project spokesperson Carol Greensmith said they would have more to say on the accommodation of the workforce next month.

But the project was in its early days, with the release of contracts into the market this year.

"The workforce will ramp up over a period of time, probably not until about 2020. We're expecting there'll be over a thousand workers, at least, on the project, at peak."

Mr Dalzell said there was no downside to a Chinese-state owned enterprise helping build a large project in New Zealand.

"It's about sharing... the expertise. It's that innovation ... the sort of technical advances that are going to save costs and hopefully shorten ... design and construction periods and also minimise the disruption."

The Chinese joint venture would use local labour and expertise, as demanded by social sustainability clauses in the contracts.

Ms Greensmith said a third of the workers on the rail project will probably be general labourers, and said the contracts were designed to favour marginalised local workers for those jobs.

"So hopefully there'll be a large number of Aucklanders working on the project itself. And we won't know what expertise the other companies will need to bring in until we know who they are and where they're from."

The rail link is taking almost six years to build.

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