Residential sector declines as non-residential sector peaks

  • Insights
  • Residential sector declines as non-residential sector peaks
About this article
Chris Haines


Chris Haines


Crane Index
Market Insights

Sign Up for Market Trends & Insights


According to the Q1 2024 RLB Crane Index®, 139 long-term cranes were counted across New Zealand, down from a record high of 157 cranes a year ago (Q1 2023).

This drop in crane numbers highlights the continued pressure on the residential market in New Zealand and the significant decline in residential construction activity, particularly across multi-unit residential.

The 21st edition of the biannual report also noted that non-residential long-term cranes have hit a new peak of 109 cranes, or 78% of cranes across the major centres. Whilst non-residential projects include those in the aged-care, civil, civic, data centres, industrial, education, health, mixed-use, and retail sectors, the key contributor to this new watermark was the continuous strong demand for government-led infrastructure (civil) projects and the significant crane activity on Te Kaha Christchurch Stadium.

Slowing of crane commencements shows pressure on residential market

Chris Haines, Director at Rider Levett Bucknall said, “Looking at the seven key centres across New Zealand, 139 long-term cranes were recorded on developments this quarter: 79 cranes in Auckland, 24 cranes in Christchurch, 11 cranes in Queenstown, 10 cranes in Wellington, 7 cranes in Dunedin, 6 cranes in Tauranga and 2 cranes in Hamilton.”

“A net decrease of 5 long-term cranes from 144 to 139 cranes (3% fall) across New Zealand was recorded over the past six months, following a slowing of crane commencements.  This is particularly true of the residential sector and a slowing pipeline where only eight new long-term cranes have been sighted since Q3 2023 and 25 residential cranes have been removed, equating to a 36% decrease in residential cranes across the country,” he added.

This movement of building activity from the residential sector to the non-residential sector is reflected in the latest RLB Crane Index® results. The proportion of residential cranes across New Zealand fell to 21.6%, the lowest since Q3 2015.  Only 30 residential long-term cranes are currently on sites across the country, also the lowest number since Q3 2015. The current number of residential cranes is significantly lower than the peak of 76 recorded just 18 months ago in Q3 2022.

Strong growth in health, education and civic sectors

The non-residential sectors recorded strong growth in 2023, with health, education, civic and commercial sectors all recording double digit increases in the value of work put in place. Te Kaha Christchurch Stadium, which is well into the construction phase, currently has 10 cranes onsite – the most cranes on a single project in the country.

Future government spend still uncertain until May budget

This is reflected in the continuing upward trajectory of the non-residential index. However, future government spend, and pipeline remains uncertain.  The eagerly awaited May budget will be a key indicator of the construction industry’s pipeline into the near future.

The value of building consents fell 11.9% in the 2023 calendar year, with total consents across New Zealand down $3.8bn from the record value seen in 2022.

Residential consents were down by 16.5% and non-residential fell by 1.0%. The current drop in consent values is likely to be a strong indicator of both demand and future crane activity over the next 12 to 18 months.

Commercial sector adding more long-term cranes

Chris continued, “There was a net decrease of five long-term cranes for this edition of the RLB Crane Index®. 58 cranes were removed from sites, while 53 new long-term cranes were placed on sites.  Despite the decrease in net crane numbers, the commercial sector saw strong activity with an additional eight long-term cranes, while the civic and recreation sectors each added four long-term cranes.”

Christchurch leads the way, while Auckland records its largest drop

Christchurch had its highest total since 2017 with a total of 24 cranes, and Dunedin reached a record crane count of 7 cranes with the hospital project now gaining momentum. Tauranga had a net increase of two cranes. Queenstown saw six cranes removed and six new cranes on sites across the region. Auckland saw the largest drop in long-term crane numbers, from 90 in the last edition to now hosting 79, a 12% decline. Both Hamilton and Wellington saw a fall of two cranes each.

Read the New Zealand Q1 2024 RLB Crane Index® here