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Management friction, unpaid bills sink promising pre-fab housing builder ABT in Auckland

Thursday 19th January 2017

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ABT Construction, once touted as part of the solution to Auckland's housing crisis with its fast-turnaround pre-fabricated dwellings, has been put into liquidation by transport firm Multi-Trans over unpaid bills amid reports of frictions within its management team.

The first liquidators' report shows that McDonald Vague's Peri Finnigan and Boris van Delden have so far been unable to determine precisely when ABT ceased trading around mid-2016 and have no current address for the company. Of its 200 shares, Auckland-based Qijie Xu is dominant with 124 shares, while Murray Painting held 66 shares.

Multi-Trans director Dave Brown said his firm hauled ABT modules from the Auckland Show Grounds to an Albany development in 2015 but wasn't paid in full. Brown said ABT "paid a little bit of money, locked the office and didn't answer the phone."

In 2015, ABT had four developments on the go in Auckland at Narrow Neck, Unsworth Heights and Grafton and even a contract for toilets on Great Barrier Island. Its model for building modular homes offsite at a factory, keeping costs low, was praised by Housing Minister Nick Smith at the time. 

"The sort of technology being developed by ABT is part of the solution to New Zealand's housing challenges in that it involves scale and prefab construction as well as apartment-style design," Smith told the Herald in 2015.

The modules were unusual in often being multistoried. They could be craned onto building sites once foundations were in place.

Finnigan and van Delden say in their report that based on information from various parties, "it appears there were conflicts within the company's management team that resulted in the company ceasing to trade around mid-2016".

The value of secured and unsecured creditor claims is unknown. Secured creditors with assets pledged are Carter Holt Harvey, Harvey Norman, Ricoh, Steel & Tube Holdings, Tile Imports NZ and Bunnings.

BusinessDesk wasn't immediately able to contact Qijie Xu. A person of that name is also a shareholder of LJ & CHY Holdings and was the developer of a terrace house development in Devonport that used ABT as the builders, says James Kellow, a director of New Zealand Mortgages & Securities which provided financing.

The second project, with YLM Holdings, was the Albany development, stage 1 of a 20 townhouse consent at 153 Albany Highway, Kellow said. In both cases the projects were completed to a good standard, he said. He added that Albany Highway "was one of the few that were refinanced part way through," in a year when his firm was repaid financing of 550 townhouses and apartments and 200 sections.

"We were repaid in July 2016," he said. The project "was running late and we had concerns around level of activity on site. However, actual quality of construction was good."

Creditor claims are due in with the liquidators by Jan. 27.

William Carter, who was ABT's sales and systems manager at the time, said the building operation was "a very good system, a viable system". The projects underway had all been completed and Carter said he has worked with another company, Hyperstructure, to assist ABT customers after it was unable to complete. He was proud of the ABT system but there had been some internal issues between the partners.

Carter also said he was keen to become involved with such systems again. "Pre-fab is going to be a big part of the New Zealand building industry," he said.

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