Lobbying from Fletcher Building has paid off now it’s been granted an exemption from lockdown restrictions to keep production going at its Golden Bay Cement plant 

Fletcher Building has won its battle to be allowed to keep its Golden Bay Cement plant open during Level 4 lockdown.

The company had been negotiating with Government since the lockdown was announced. Three other major local manufacturers – New Zealand Steel, Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter and Methanex’ methanol plant – were all allowed to stay open under an exemption to lockdown rules, but Golden Bay wasn’t.

Today the plant at Portland near Whangarei was added to the Schedule 2 exemptions list, which also includes supermarkets, self-service laundries and licensing trusts.

NZ Steel, Tiwai Point and Methanex were allowed to stay open in part because stopping operations is difficult, expensive and time consuming, and could potentially cause a health and safety risk, Government said. 

Fletcher Building argued the same was the case with Golden Bay.

It takes three days to wind down production at the cement works and the same amount of time to get the lines up and running again, Fletcher Building chief executive Ross Taylor told Newsroom.

“We know from previous experience we can continue to operate safely.” 

Ross Taylor and his team have been lobbying the Government for an exemption for Golden Bay Cement. Photo: Supplied

A Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment spokesperson told Newsroom the ministry had also taken into consideration Fletcher Building’s arguments that stopping operations at the cement plant would have significant economic implications.

Golden Bay and the other exempted industrial complexes “provide goods vital to support supply chains and activities necessary for the resumption of economic activity at lower alert levels”, the spokesperson said.

A Fletcher Building spokesperson said Golden Bay Cement [GBC] hadn’t totally shut down operations when the news came through the Government had granted the exemption. 

“Shutting down isn’t quick and easy therefore, as we waited for a formal decision on GBC we maintained the condition of the plant and equipment as permitted under clause 18 of the Health Order. We have had a comprehensive Covid 19 management plan in place to protect our people while working at GBC at Alert Level 4. This plan will continue to be in place as we ramp up production again.”

Last year forestry and wood products company Pan Pac proposed a Covid certification system where big manufacturers could stay open during Level 4 lockdown if they met government-mandated criteria for safe operations. 

Pan Pac managing director Tony Clifford hoped it could save companies the millions of dollars they would otherwise lose during Covid lockdown, and avoid the inevitable loss of production in essential sectors, such as building supplies.

“I advocated for it strongly,” Clifford told Newsroom. “But there was no appetite at all.”

When Newsroom asked the ministry last week about the proposal, another MBIE spokesperson said the rules were in place to make sure people stayed home as much as possible.

“Having non-essential businesses operating during Alert Level 4 unnecessarily increases the odds of transmission with workers moving in and out of their home bubbles, connecting bubbles and therefore increasing the potential chain of infection.”

Golden Bay is New Zealand’s only local cement manufacturer, supplying more than half the local market. An upgrade to the plant allowing it to burn used tyres as part of the cement-making process was opened in March. The plant could use up to 3.1 million shredded waste tyres, 50 percent of what New Zealand produces every year, as well as reduce coal use by 15 percent and cut carbon emissions by around 13,000 tonnes, the company said at the time.

Golden Bay’s cement will be vital for NZ’s post-Covid economic recovery, MBIE says. Photo: Nikki Mandow

Nikki Mandow was Newsroom's business editor and the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Business Journalist of the Year @NikkiMandow.

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