Iron and Steel
Iron and Steel
In the immediate pre-war years, New Zealand's principal sources of supply for iron and steel and for steel products were Australia and Great Britain. Most arrivals were private imports, requiring, after 1938, an import licence.
As the wartime commitments of the United Kingdom industry increased rapidly, from September 1939, supplies of steel and steel products from that source dwindled and soon practically ceased. At the same time, the nature of New Zealand's problem was emerging—to maintain a steady flow of imports of different kinds of steel and steel products averaging from 150,000 to 200,000 tons a year and to avoid, as far as possible, using scarce dollar funds.
Rapid deterioration of overseas supply required the immediate regulation of use in New Zealand. Control over the allocation of most raw materials became the responsibility of the various Controllers, and the duty of rationing supplies of iron and steel fell to the Controllers of the more important industries using these commodities—the Factory, Building, Munitions, Primary Industries and Mining Controllers. A number of notices were issued by the Factory Controller, from December 1939, relating to the sale and use of iron and steel sheets, and a series of notices by the Building Controller restricted the use of galvanised iron and steel for building purposes. In 1941 a Building Control Regulation made it necessary to obtain the prior consent of the Controller to erect a new building containing over half a ton of reinforcing steel or estimated to cost over £2000. Local authorities could not issue permits for dwellings, where corrugated iron was to be used, without the prior consent of the Building Controller.page 132
There were serious delays in supplies from all British countries, including Australia, during 1940. To conserve dollar exchange every effort was made at this time to avoid purchases from Canada or the United States of America. However, by the end of 1940, it was necessary to seek supplies from the United States if the munitions and other essential industries were to be maintained. The position eased a little when 3000 tons of pig iron were purchased from India and, in 1941, 36,000 tons of steel billets arrived from the United States. Supplementary purchases from the United States continued and grew in volume as Australian supplies diminished.
At the outbreak of war, New Zealand's only rolling mills, at Dunedin, were working on a single shift, re-rolling, from imported Australian billets, 350 to 400 tons a month of certain sizes of finished sections for the Railways Department and other users. Quantities of rails and special railway material were also obtained from the United Kingdom.
In September 1940 the Factory Controller directed that a second shift be worked in the Dunedin rolling mills, a practice which was to be continued until January 1944. In 1941 this was still not enough and, to meet the shortage of building steel, the Government decided, in April, to erect a duplication of the rolling mills, adjacent to the existing privately owned plant in Dunedin. An endeavour was made to build up stocks of steel billets from the imports from the United States and Australia to feed the increased rolling mill capacity. The plant was duly erected, the machinery, with the exception of special items such as the rollers, being manufactured in New Zealand. It commenced rolling operations in April 1943, but, by October of the same year, the supply of finished sections from overseas had considerably improved and the Government suspended further operations.
Throughout 1941, orders for steel for various essential purposes, including ship repairs, were forwarded to the United States by the Ministry for placing through the British Purchasing Commission. In March the Lend-Lease Act was passed. New Zealand became eligible for Lend-Lease supplies in November 1941 and soon steady deliveries of iron and steel of various grades were being received. However, it was not until 1943 that Lend-Lease supplies became sufficient to make up for losses from elsewhere.
From the beginning of 1942, procurement policy became more settled. The Minister of Supply was able to arrange for the supply of 50,000 tons a year from Australia, provided it was ordered through one New Zealand purchasing agency. The United States of America agreed to release a little more than 100,000 tons to New Zealand during the year, while the United Kingdom allocated 40,000 to 50,000 tons to meet the balance of New Zealand's needs.page 133
As supplies came to hand they were made available for work which had the approval of the Factory Controller. To protect supplies further, the Iron and Steel Control Notice was issued by the Factory Controller in April 1942, providing that, except with his prior consent, no iron or steel, wrought or cast, could be used for about thirty specified purposes.
As the result of a visit by an Anglo-American steel mission in April 1943, the position of Steel Controller was established and Mr F. R. Picot, Commissioner of Supply, was appointed. From January 1944, all persons purchasing steel from merchants for use or for works stocks were required to surrender signed permits from the Controller, the purpose being to keep a record of all steel used or withdrawn from stocks.
Iron and steel imports, with the assistance of Lend-Lease supplies, were in 1943 about one-third higher than before the war and continued quite high into the following year. By May 1944 the steel crisis was over, and the relaxation of controls began in October 1944. In November the position of Steel Controller was abolished. By this time permits were required only for galvanised and black steel sheets. By February 1946 nearly all classes of iron and steel were again being imported privately, subject to import licence.