Government agencies head to outskirts

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 14:19 11/01/2012

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Two government departments have signed a nine-year lease on offices near Christchurch International Airport, despite plans for the public service to lead the charge back to the central city.

Inland Revenue and the Social Development Ministry expect to move 500 workers into a new 5000-square-metre office at the Airport Business Park in Russley Rd in December, locking them into the site until late 2021.

Inland Revenue was previously one of the biggest central Christchurch government tenants but it was forced to vacate its modern Cashel St building after the February 22 earthquake.

Both agencies have been housed in scattered temporary premises since, briefly occupying the same Papanui office as the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, which was evacuated after the June 13 quakes.

The draft central-city plan - recovery authorities' blueprint for rebuilding the central business district - states that the Government is expected to "contribute to the central-city development by committing to return all government operations and departments back to the area".

Central City Business Association manager Paul Lonsdale said the agencies' move was "very, very disappointing" and contrary to the city plan.

"If they don't get the public services back and supporting the central-city rebuild, it is going to lessen confidence, isn't it?"

He said he would understand if government departments were forced to sign three or five-year leases, but a nine-year lease was indefensible. "The Government and the public service has a duty to lead the way."

Inland Revenue service delivery deputy commissioner Mary Craig said a modern building in safer, western Christchurch would help secure "business continuity".

The department remained committed to returning to the Cashel St offices, but it was not clear when this would be possible, she said.

"Both agencies are committed to maintaining a presence in Cashel St once they have regained access to occupy the building," Craig said.

Lonsdale said the agencies would not need both buildings and would have difficulty subleasing such a large office if they chose to move back to the central city. "They are contradictory statements."

The Airport Business Park is one of many Christchurch business developments accelerated to cater for the overflow of former central-city commercial tenants.

About 6000 businesses employed 50,000 people in the city centre before the quakes, and only a few have returned.

Last month, a survey of 100 former central Christchurch businesses found that only 40 per cent wanted to return, and 38 per cent were unlikely to do so. Twenty per cent were unsure.

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- The Press

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