Antarctica: Lower cost plan to develop Scott Base released

Antarctica New Zealand is downgrading its plans for the redevelopment of Scott Base and seeking to extend the life of its current buildings where possible to curb escalating costs.

The troubled half-billion dollar project has come under the microscope since the government agency failed to reach a commercial agreement with its preferred main contractor last year.

The redevelopment came with an initial price tag of $250 million but the budget has since blown out to $498m.

Of that, $317m was placed into a tagged contingency fund by the government at this year’s budget.

RNZ had sought to clarify how the remaining $181m was used, but was consistently rebuffed by Antarctica New Zealand.

“The $181m represents the project cost elements (project management, design, materials and site works) and the forecast costs to complete the wind farm. Further breakdown of the amount is deemed commercially sensitive and is withheld,” the agency said, in response to RNZ’s most recent request.

Antarctica New Zealand today released its plan for the reset of the Scott Base redevelopment and, in a media release, said its new plan had the backing of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters.

“The plan is to build a new accommodation and living building, to refurbish the Hillary Field Centre dedicated to support scientific work, to scope a third building for workshops, plant and machinery, and to extend the life of current buildings where practicable,” the release said.

“The new redevelopment plan will be supported by a masterplan that ensures the infrastructure can adapt to meet the changing needs of science and the impacts of environmental and climate change.”

New Zealand's Scott Base in Antarctica, in 2023.

An independent review panel had recommended using a small modular construction methodology which allowed for containerised delivery and conventional shipping to Antarctica with some of the new construction to include conventional framing built onsite.

“The new plan means Antarctica New Zealand will not proceed with the proposed three-building design using a large module construction methodology. Transport of the modules was considered to carry too great a risk and the need for fewer new buildings made it less viable economically,” the statement said.

Antarctica New Zealand’s board chairperson Leon Grice said the redevelopment could now proceed within budget.

“This work has allowed the board to resolve a way forward with confidence and ensure we deliver the redevelopment scope within the budget set aside in the government’s tagged contingency.

“We are re-establishing governance oversight and the project team, revising the design work and commencing detailed costings.

“We are highly focused on providing a year-round safe and functional base for our staff and the scientists we support who undertake world-class science.”

Antarctica New Zealand chief executive Sarah Williamson said the reasons to redevelop Scott Base remained.

“New Zealand needs safe and fit-for-purpose infrastructure that can withstand extreme conditions and support world leading science. Antarctica is extreme, remote, and unforgiving. We need a fully self-sufficient off-the-grid building for the coldest, windiest, harshest place on Earth.

“Antarctica New Zealand’s new plan is not starting from scratch as a lot of the design work can be translated from large to small module construction.

“Our goal is to turn the key in the 2028/29 season.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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