15K Workers for NZ Rebuild as Pan Pac Eyes Post-Gabrielle Return

The Oji Fibre Solutions owned mill is preparing for an October opening , eight months after the cyclone caused catastrophic damage.

Tue 12 Sep 23


As the recovery from NZ’s year of wild weather wears on, experts now say 15,000 extra construction workers will be needed at the peak of the reconstruction to get the job done.

The Infrastructure Commission Te Waihanga has provided forward projections to 2029 as the NZ Government counts the cost of Cyclones Gabrielle, Cyclone Hale and the Auckland Anniversary floods.

At its peak — in the last quarter of 2025 — the commission forecasts that 14,859 extra workers are required for critical road, rail, water and energy projects on the go.

Among the most devasted areas was the Hawkes Bay region, split in two after the Tūtaekurī River bridge was swept away during Cyclone Gabrielle.

Damage at the Pan Pac mill passed $50 million

Timber and pulp mill Pan Pac, based in Whirinaki north of Napier, is one of the businesses most acutely impacted by the cyclone’s destruction.

As reported by Wood Central in February, the sound of trees snapping “was like the loudest gunshots you’ve ever heard” as the cyclone ripped through forests on New Zealand’s central North Island on February 16.

Aerial image of the flooding around Ravensdown in Awatoto. (Photo Credit: Hastings Council)

At the time, locals said timber and logs from the mill sprawled across roads 300m from the mill, creating significant hazards on local roads.

The mill – owned by Oji Fibre Solutions – is critical to the region’s economy, employing 400 people at the site and a further 400 contractors in its forestry operations.

After the flooding subsided, the mill had no power with its systems, and its generators were submerged in water. 

Speaking to RNZ’s Nine to Noon hours after the event, Managing Director Tony Clifford said the mill had activated its disaster recovery services.

“Certainly, we’re looking at weeks of recovery on the site before we can re-establish operations there.”

But it wasn’t weeks. It’s been months. And, while the damage is extensive, Pan Pac decided to rebuild the mill rather than close it down permanently or move it elsewhere.

In March, the site was visited by the Minister for Cyclone Recovery (and Finance Minister) Grant Robertson and the Chair of the Cyclone Recovery Taskforce, Sir Brian Roche. (Photo Credit:Pan Pac Facebook)

 “Our message to our Hawke’s Bay community, customers and suppliers,” Mr Clifford reported in the NZ Herald, “is that we have been here 50 years, and we are here to stay.”

Pan Pac has been working with contractors to help people in the Tangoio, Kaweka, Whirinaki, Eskdale and Dartmoor Valley areas clean up and repair damaged infrastructure on their properties. This work primarily consists of clearing silt and woody debris, repairing culverts and fences, and restoring access roads. (Photo Credit: Pan Pac Facebook)

After seven months, Wood Central understands that the mill will be operational in October 2023.

Business Desk reports that damage caused by the cyclone has already surpassed NZ $50 million across inventory write-offs and ‘derecognition’ of property, plant and equipment. 

With a daily capacity of 850 tonnes, the mill produces pulp products exported globally through the Napier port.

At the time of the cyclone, Napier Port CEO Todd Dawson said, “Pan Pac is a significant cargo supplier of pulp, timber and logs for export, has sustained significant damage to its plant in Whirinaki and will not have pulp or timber production for an extended period.”

The Pan Pac closure has significantly impacted cargo volumes – with the mill reopening expected to increase cargo volumes from the local port.

Reconstruction will shape the NZ Election

The reconstruction has become a key election issue ahead of the October poll. Last week, NZ Opposition leader Christopher Luxon visited the region in one of the first official engagements of his election campaign.

Mr Luxon announced plans for a Cyclone and Flood Recovery Ombudsman, with powers to review decisions such as land categorisations or house buyout valuations.

National is promising its approach to cyclone and flood recovery would be “fairer and faster” than Labour’s, with plans to cut regulations and set up a specific ombudsman. Footage courtesy of @RNZVideo.

However, Tukituki Labour MP Anna Lorck said a Labour Government was committed to the recovery in the region.

“What I see as absolutely critical to keeping our regional economy moving ahead and growing good local jobs is that we make sure locals and local businesses get as much of this work as possible – that’s a very real opportunity for Hawke’s Bay and how we must support our region to rebuild and go from strength to strength – now and into the future – that’s my priority.

“On top of the recovery and rebuild, there’s also been a record $290m of Government investment going into supporting ongoing economic development, and we continue to see significant activity in the construction and building sectors with a major pipeline of work.”

Does NZ have enough construction capacity for the rebuild?

Meanwhile, Civil Contractors New Zealand chief executive Alan Pollard said the industry was working on a big overseas recruitment drive, and some people, such as forestry workers, had picked up construction jobs.

But he still worried there would not be enough hands on deck.

“There’s a lot of stress in the industry at the moment because people are working extremely hard under extremely trying conditions to try and meet the requirements of the current workload, and we’ve got to up that for when the future workload comes on stream.”

Mr Pollard is concerned that current immigration settings are not ‘fit for purpose.’

“If you look at the immigration pathway, very few visa settings have civil construction roles on them.

“We were fortunate to have a couple of roles added pre-Christmas to the green list, but some of particularly the lower-skilled visa categories — there are no civil workers on there at all, and that has to change.”


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    Wood Central is Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms. Our vision is to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education, and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber, and fibre.


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