Engineer makes surprise return to manage project

Robert Jones is no stranger to motorway projects, having overseen construction of the Northern Gateway between Orewa and the Johnstones Hill Tunnels.

Three months into retirement Matakana resident Robert Jones wasn’t expecting to receive a call to manage one of the country’s largest construction projects.

The engineer took over as Fletcher Construction project director for the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway last month, after Alan Orange retired from the role.

“The call came out of the blue, really, but I was very excited about the idea of working on this project,” Mr Jones says.

“It’s a bit ironic really, because I was chief executive officer for Fulton Hogan New Zealand and we previously bid for this project, but lost out.”

He is no stranger to motorway construction having managed the building of the Northern Gateway between Orewa and the Johnstones Hill Tunnels.

“Living in the area and having overseen the previous leg of the motorway made taking on the role an easy decision.

“Around 20 per cent of the 500 staff on this job I already knew from the Northern Gateway project and Alan had set things up well, so it was an easy transition.”

Looking forward, he says, that as with the Northern Gateway, weather combined with difficult topography are the biggest challenges they face.

“The climate in this area means the ground is often wet and we can’t use our earth moving machinery in these conditions.

“Earthworks make up the largest part of this project so we are looking forward to completing that stage.”

To help manage this they have analysed historical weather patterns and only allow for 120 earth work days per year in planning to account for any unforeseeable hold ups.

Prior to managing motorway projects in Rodney, Mr Jones worked in a number of countries, including on an alliance project in Australia that saw him selected to oversee the Northern Gateway.

“My father was an engineer so I guess I followed in his footsteps a bit and did a building degree at what is now Coventry University after growing up in West Yorkshire, England.”

He picked up a cadetship from there and was given the opportunity to work on hundred million dollar builds in Trinidad and Tobago, and Africa.

“One of those jobs was the central bank that involved two separate 23-storey buildings.”

He later worked in Thailand, managing construction of another bank with a floor plan of 200,000 square metres and a shopping mall of 350,000 square metres. “It was in Bangkok I met my wife Marion, who is now involved with the Mahurangi East Community Library, Kowhai Singers and Kowhai Art and Craft group.” Another one of his big projects involved shifting a gold processing plant from Australia to Mongolia.

“I remember getting on the plane where it was 30 degrees in Australia and landing in Mongolia to step out into minus 40 degree conditions, that was a real challenge.”

In addition to managing the motorway, Mr Jones keeps himself busy on the Infrastructure New Zealand Board that lobbies the government.

“One of our biggest issues is a lack of projects in this country meaning we lose a lot of engineers overseas, hence why we have a lot of young and very experienced staff on this build, but no one in between.” He has also been on the Camp Bentzon board for 12 years and gave advice on both the Sandspit Marina construction and Mahurangi River Restoration Trust dredging.


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