Spotlight on Sam Muirhead

Piritahi is an alliance of companies formed to deliver build-ready land for Kāinga Ora – Homes and Communities. Working as an alliance means we have a mix of people from our participant companies with different backgrounds, expertise and strengths, enabling us to deliver our massive programme of works through collaboration.

Sam Muirhead joined Piritahi from member company, Woods, as a Licensed Cadastral Surveyor. We caught up with Sam to learn more about her role at Piritahi and experience working in an alliance.

Tell us about your role?
As a Licensed Cadastral Surveyor, I’m responsible for all the survey components of a neighbourhood. Our team are involved throughout the project, from when old houses are tenanted right through to sign-off and handover of build-ready land to Kāinga Ora. At the beginning, it’s all about creating a record of the physical state of the property and the rights that go with it. Before any work can start, site investigations including topographical surveys are carried out to identify ground levels and locate existing features and services. Accurate information informs good design, so everything we collect is passed onto our engineers. We also deal with the legal side of things to identify any interests the land may be subject to, and prepare scheme plans with the new boundaries for resource consent applications.

Once work begins, we carry out monitoring surveys to establish whether existing infrastructure is being affected by construction. There are also legal processes involved because we are changing the way the parcels of land are used. Part of this involves working with a solicitor to understand what’s included on the existing titles before new ones can be created. When construction finishes there’s a lot to do before we can finalise and sign it off. Changes to the original design can happen during the construction, so one of the last things we do is complete final surveys and drawings to show the project as it’s been built. These are passed onto Auckland Council, Kāinga Ora and build partners as permanent records.

There’s a lot of variety in what I do because our projects are all at different stages. Every day is different, so it keeps things interesting.      

What does it mean to be a Licensed Cadastral Surveyor?
To become a Licensed Cadastral Surveyor, you have to go through the licensing process with Survey & Spatial New Zealand. You need a Bachelor of Surveying and to complete two years of practical work and projects in different disciplines before sitting an exam and professional interviews with the exam panel. It’s a long process but well worth it in the end. It means I can complete cadastral surveys which define boundaries of property and rights and lodge these into the national titles system with Land Information New Zealand.

How are we being innovative in the surveying space?
We are using new and innovative methods of data capture that only a handful of companies in New Zealand use. Our mobile laser scanner - a truck with a scanner mounted on it, has been getting lots of use across our neighbourhoods. This is a new technology that speeds things up by providing high-quality imagery and 3D data at a scan rate of up to one million points per second. As the vehicle travels through the road corridor, it scans everything it sees including trees, kerbing and a variety of existing ground features. It’s effective because it means we can spend less time on collection and more time on analysis. It’s also safer, more efficient and results in accurate and very detailed 3D data models of the neighbourhoods. We also use this technology to compare the condition of roads before work has begun and after. This is important because it helps us identify anything that needs to be remedied before we hand the land back to Kāinga Ora to begin building new homes.

What are some challenges you’ve faced in this role?

Due to the sheer size and complexity of some projects and stages being constructed simultaneously, phases of work need to be carefully planned out. This can be challenging because you need to be conscious of the project timelines and know when certain tasks need to be done. For example, sometimes a property survey needs to be lodged and approved before we can lodge another one. It can get complicated and when this isn’t done right, it can slow progress or even stop work. A delayed site investigation could hold up the resource consent and then this can create flow-on effects for our design and construction teams. Being a part of such complex projects has been a massive learning experience for me, but I couldn’t have picked a better next career step than Piritahi – it’s been the perfect choice for my professional development.

What do you enjoy about working in an alliance?

Before Piritahi I was involved with many greenfield subdivisions, splitting open areas into new subdivision for hundreds of homes to be built. In the alliance we still survey land for new homes, but the difference is we are delivering build-ready land in complex residential areas that have existing infrastructure and houses. It can get tricky because some houses may have party walls, existing easements or are cross-leased, so it can take longer than usual to form new titles. But it all makes for more fun and a great learning experience that I wouldn’t get in many other places.

Being part of an alliance, also provides the opportunity to work with so many talented people from a whole range of civil construction disciplines. It was formed with New Zealand’s top civil construction specialists and it’s been an awesome learning experience rubbing shoulders with the best of the best. Because we work much more collaboratively here, our team gets to work more closely with geotechnical engineers, land remediators and the construction team. I’m learning every day because of this close collaboration and the many opportunities across the alliance. I’ve learned so much by just sitting next to someone from another team or sharing a conversation in the lunchroom, it’s awesome.

Even though it’s often down to the crunch at handover time – it’s very rewarding seeing how quickly we are handing over build-ready land for new, warm dry homes to be built. It’s a pretty special feeling when people and families move into the homes built on land we’ve delivered.

A massive thanks to Sam for this insight into life as a Cadastral Land Surveyor at Piritahi. To learn more about opportunities to work with us, check out our careers page.