NZ Geomechanics News

Chair’s Corner

If the last six months have felt busy to you, you’re not the only one. Despite notable failures, overall the construction sector continues to grow strongly, and forecasts suggest this will continue for some time yet. The National Construction Pipeline Report (MBIE, 2019), anticipates continued growth in residential and infrastructure sectors until at least 2024, with a peak in the non-residential building sector in 2021.

Figure 1: All building and construction in New Zealand forecast to 2024 (MBIE, 2019)

To highlight the pace of growth in recent years, Figure 2 shows the growth in residential consents processed in Auckland.

Figure 2: Dwelling units consented in Auckland forecast to 2024 (MBIE, 2019)

It’s no surprise that the last six months have kept the geotechnical sector in New Zealand busy, and NZGS activities have been just as hectic. The growth in the sector has driven demand for training, and (especially in light of the lessons learned from recent earthquakes) a real need for new guidance and improved standards. These link with the aims of the NZGS, which are:

  •  To advance the education and application of soil mechanics, rock mechanics and engineering geology among engineers and scientists.
  •  To advance the practice and application of these disciplines in engineering.
  •  To implement the statutes of the respective international societies in so far as they are applicable in New Zealand.
  • To ensure that the learning achieved through the above objectives is passed on to the public as is appropriate.

The new NZGS committee was elected in September and has made a strong start on projects aligned with these aims. We’ve run a successful series of short courses, prepared for our next symposium, continued to develop guidance and standards, and advocated on your behalf to government agencies. I’ll summarise some of the highlights, and introduce you to your new committee members.



Newly elected committee members Sally Dellow and Jen Smith will be taking the lead on our programme of short courses and have already prepared a fantastic programme for 2020. In the last six months we’ve run one-day courses on GIS for Geotechnical Professionals, Geotechnical Engineering in Residual Soils, Design and Construction Techniques in Soft Ground, and Cone Penetration Testing.

Proposed courses for next year include rock slope stability, soil slope stability, geotechnical earthquake engineering, earthquake design of foundations, and landslide hazard and risk assessment. These will be presented by national and international experts to provide very high-quality CPD. For more information contact

Olivia Gill is also new to the committee, having been co-opted to manage our website. As our communications become increasingly internet focussed her role is particularly important, and we welcome any suggestions about how we can improve the site for your benefit. Please send any questions to

Áine McCarthy has taken over as Young Geotechnical Professional co-ordinator and has already made a huge impact on the 2020 YGP Symposium which will be in Cairns next year. Áine and the YGP teams around the country have managed a very successful regional series of mini-symposia which have been very well received by our young members. You can contact Áine using


Sadly, we have to say farewell to some of our most influential and hard-working committee members. Kevin Anderson and Stuart Read have reached the end of their terms, and Gavin Alexander has handed over his role as ISSMGE Australasian Vice President to Phil Robins while he recovers from illness. I cannot overstate how hard these three individuals have worked during their time on the committee, providing many hundreds – or thousands – of hours of their own time. Without their huge efforts the NZGS, and our industry, would be significantly poorer. 

We are hopeful that all three will be able continue with their involvement in a less formal capacity. Kevin is working hard on a guideline for anchors, Stuart is taking the lead on an update to the Field Guide for Soil and Rock Description, and we hope that Gavin will be resuming his involvement in the finalisation of the Earthquake Geotechnical Engineering Modules before too long.

NZGS Symposium

Eleni Gkeli, our new treasurer and vice-chair, is continuing her role as convenor of our NZGS Symposium which will take place on 15-17 October next year in Dunedin. We’ve had an incredible response to the call for abstracts, so this four-yearly event promises to be spectacular. Start to prepare your business case to attend because there is a real risk that this could sell out.

International speakers

Sally Hargraves continues her role looking after the branches and co-ordinating international speakers. She has been hugely successful at getting speakers from around the world to visit New Zealand to share their knowledge and has already secured Jackie Skipper (Glossop Lecturer) for 2020. Sally has had great success at getting international speakers to visit our regional centres, and will continue to drive for this as well as supporting recording and live streaming to make these talks as accessible as possible to all our members.

Future of the New Zealand Geotechnical Database

The New Zealand Geotechnical Database (NZGD) is a fantastic success story. With over 113,000 freely available data points, New Zealand is leading the world in sharing geotechnical data in a way that benefits us all. I’m very pleased to report that the NZGD will be fully funded by the Earthquake Commission (EQC) until 2022, so its short-term future is secure. We are greatly indebted to Jo Horrocks of EQC for funding this project, to the Building Systems Performance team at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) for supporting this for so long, and particularly to John Scott for his huge efforts setting up this database and driving it forward. I have no doubt that without his influence the NZGD would never have got off the ground.

MBIE have generously agreed to fund a working group including representatives from NZGS, MBIE, EQC and Engineering NZ to identify the most appropriate long-term funding source and operating model for the database, and plans are already in place for a project to make sure this is properly managed.

Occupational regulation

The NZGS committee have been working closely with Engineering NZ to give advice to MBIE on occupational regulation, and particularly the changes proposed following the Royal Commission.

MBIE have been working on the building law reforms since submissions closed in June this year, and have divided their work into two bills. The first bill covers topics such as prefabrication and off-site manufacture, building product information and responsibilities, strengthening Codemark etc. This first bill has already been through cabinet, and could be passed into law before mid-2020.

The second bill will address changes to occupational regulation, including licencing engineers which will have significant consequences for the status of CPEng. Work on this has recently re-started, having been on hold while details of the first bill were worked out. This is of particular interest to us, and we will continue to advocate for the geotechnical profession. MBIE intend to make significant progress on this before the next national election.

Other NZGS activities

In addition to all the above, the committee has plenty of other projects to keep us busy. Rolando Orense will continue in his role co-ordinating our awards and providing valuable links to the academic sector. Please contact him if you have any suggestions for NZGS members who should be entered for international awards.

I have continued to work with MBIE representing the geotechnical profession on their Building Code Technical Advisory Group (BCTRAG). This group meets quarterly to raise technical issues and recommend improvements for MBIE to consider. We’ve discussed liquefaction in the context of the definition of good ground, which has already led to a change limiting the application of the B1 Acceptable Solution B1/AS1 so that it may not be used on ground prone to liquefaction or lateral spreading, but also are considering much wider issues such as how to adapt the building code to respond to climate change, building repairability after ULS events, and risks in other sectors such as structural and fire engineering. If you have any issues that you’d like raised with MBIE please contact me using

We are also supporting MBIE in their development of a programme of work to improve geotechnical practice through amendments to standards and the building code. One of their first areas of interest is NZS 4431, but there is a significant effort planned for further work on other standards as well. We are delighted that MBIE have employed two geotechnical engineers (Tony Kao and Kiran Saligame) which bodes well for the future.

We are working closely with Engineering NZ and MBIE to finalise the Earthquake Geotechnical Engineering modules. These were originally published in “preliminary draft” form. They’ve now been tested and some really good feedback has been received, so it is time to finalise the documents. This two-year programme is now six months in and is currently on track for time and budget. (See figure below).

Tony Fairclough is leading the NZGS involvement in the joint NZGS/SESOC project “ASG Piling Specification Review and Update Project”. The first meeting of this group on was Thursday 21st November in Auckland, and progress reports will be circulated at a later date.

New projects in our work programme for this year are:

  •  An update to the Field Guide to Soil and Rock Description.
  •  Creation of a practice guide for slope stability.
  •  Updates to the New Zealand Ground Investigation Specification to incorporate feedback.
  •  Creation of a guideline for ground anchor design.

These projects are still in the scoping phase, so the programme and details are yet to be confirmed. We’ve had a fantastic response to our call for volunteers to assist with developing these, and expect to see them start in the new year.


These are busy times for our profession and for our society. We have a huge work programme, and some compromises will have to be made if we’re to make real progress on the most important issues. Our current priorities are the 2020 Symposium as well as our training courses, branch events, the Earthquake Geotechnical Engineering Modules, and our liaison role with MBIE. We are truly grateful for your ongoing support and would welcome any offers from members who would like to become more involved to help us drive the other projects forward.

Ross Roberts

NZGS Chair


NZ Geomechanics News
Ross Roberts
NZ Geomechanics News>Issue 98 - December 2019

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