Say it with concrete

ALAN TITCHALL attends the combined concrete industries conference and is once again impressed by the quality content.

Concrete_1.jpgYou wouldn’t have known that the combined concrete industries conference was under budget constraints this year.

It was to be held in Wellington, but returned to the Rotorua Convention Centre, where it was held last year, to cut costs for delegates during difficult economic times.

This suited most of us just fine. Rotovegas is convenient to get to for most industry players, has no parking problems, and the convention centre works very well, as does the accommodation choice and the local attractions.

This magazine considers this conference one of the very best it attends throughout the year, with a perfect balance between plenary and parallel sessions, and the obligatory social programme. It is also one of the last conferences to bother putting most of the abstracts and full presentation papers on a disk for delegates.

The combined concrete industries conference and the annual awards bring together members of the Ready Mixed Concrete Association, the Concrete Society and the Cement & Concrete Association.

The conference was opened by Maurice Williamson, the minister of Building and Construction and one of our more entertaining politicians, plugging his portfolio sector as “spending more than $20 billion per annum,” and playing a pivotal part in lifting us out of a recession.

Williamson has been sorting out the industry’s red tape and lack of regulation concerning skills – a contradictory combination that he says has left us with a legacy of leaking buildings and him with sleepless nights.

“To be a builder all you need is a ute, a cellphone and a dog,” he quipped. “The leaky home problem is proving way bigger than what we spend on health and education,” he says. And the bill will get bigger, he advises as the rot finally shows in those homes built in the country’s drier regions.

Williamson talked us through the new licensing of building practitioners and a review of the Building Act that he reckons will take at least $30,000 out of the price of a new home and leave it a lot safer against the country’s infamously wet weather.

The keynote technical speaker, Dr Tor Ole Olsen, presented a fascinating view of the role of concrete in the offshore oil and gas extraction industry up around the Arctic Circle. Plans for further oil and gas exploitation in the Arctic frontier and other harsh environments have accelerated the focus and interest for the efficiency of offshore concrete structures, he says.

Enormous offshore concrete structures are already used in this region by the petrochemical industry and they are subjected to very severe loadings and stresses.

Among the impressive pics of huge concrete structures being towed around in 30 metre seas, was a photo that had us all sit up and lean forward. It was a rock concert held at the bottom of a concrete shaft, 330 metres under Norwegian North Sea. The band and guests took eight minutes to descend to this depth in a shaft elevator to celebrate the 10th anniversary of one of the bigger concrete oil rig structures embedded in the ocean floor.

Also firing up the conference’s opening sessions was the chief executive of the NZ Transport Agency, Geoff Dangerfield, who told us the “case for borrowing” to complete the Government’s full roading plans was “pretty clear” in is mind. It was coincidental that the next day the NZ Herald ran a front page story by Brian Rudman knocking a NZTA report that reckons the first five months of toll collecting on the Orewa-to-Puhoi motorway demonstrates that “electronic toll collection can play an important role in bringing about the early construction and the successful operation of strategically important roads”.

“Figures for the first five months of operation of the Northern Gateway Toll Road, to June 30, reveal that, on average, it cost $1.29 in transaction costs to collect each $2 car toll,” says Rudman. “For those paying by phone, it would have been cheaper to have waved them through for free. Each $2 phone payment cost $2.70 to administer.”

To make up the difference between the 65c permitted transaction costs and the actual figure of $1.29, the agency has had to dig into its own pocket.

Among the numerous and edifying papers presented over the three day conference, none was as entertaining as that delivered by Chris Munn who had the unenviable job of being the first off the rank on the Saturday morning after the Friday night gala evening. His paper on the construction Allied Concrete’s, $9 million, state-of-the-art batching plant built next to Christchurch International Airport and a wildlife sanctuary under very trying consent conditions, attracted a good (if subdued) turn out. Munn’s paper and many others from the conference will be published in future editions of Contractor.

Times might be tough, but the 2009 New Zealand Concrete Society Biennial Concrete Awards (announced at the society’s gala conference dinner), drew a record number of entries, reflecting the diversity concrete offers as a building material, says The NZ Concrete Society secretary Allan Bluett.

“Concrete looks good and works hard – and as a sustainable material, its popularity is set to continue to grow.”  

Contractor Vol.33  No.10  November 2009
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