Delays make firms wary of centre

LIZ MCDONALD
Last updated 07:07 24/01/2013

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Time could be running out to attract businesses back to central Christchurch as frustration builds over a lack of progress.

Some property owners and leasing agents fear the rebuild's success is at risk, blaming a lack of clarity and timeline on the anchor projects and the return of government departments.

"People have gone back after Christmas to a second year of substandard, overcrowded, inadequate space, and they are just hating it," Colliers head of leasing Jonathan Lyttle said.

Without details soon, businesses "dead keen" to return could opt to settle elsewhere, he said.

"We cannot afford delays. This is critical for the city. We need decisions quickly because we are losing momentum."

Lyttle said that with buildings taking up to two years to construct, time was running out.

"Without knowing what's going up, it's too risky for tenants," he said.

Commercial realtor Campbell Taylor, of Knight Frank, said authorities "have got to make up their mind and set out their plan and stick to it".

Property developer Angus McFarlane has given up waiting and is selling the half-hectare Gloucester St-Armagh St site he had earmarked for office buildings.

The land may be taken for the new arts precinct, but McFarlane said he was "hamstrung" by uncertainty and delays, and his negotiations with the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) were going nowhere.

"There are hundreds of livelihoods collapsing - it's a crying shame," he said.

"We've been waiting two years paying rates without action. They can't even tell us when our site can be developed."

Despite enthusiasm from tenants, "if you put a lease in front of them they don't sign because they don't know what the city will be like", he said.

Whare homewares store co-owner Andrew Wheeley, now in a Beckenham garage after losing his Lichfield St shop, will choose new premises in the suburbs because of uncertainties in the central city.

"There are massive unknowns, even if it's affordable. We could take a risk and lease a spot, but which way will the traffic flow, where will the tourists be, and the trams?" he said.

"They have locations for the anchor projects, but from a retail perspective, what's going to be the drawcard for customers? We don't want to move in and be surrounded by bars."

Many former central-city businesses were "getting quite comfortable" in the suburbs, he said.

Joe Colgan, project director for The Building Intelligence Group, said businesses wanting to return to town "certainly won't want to be first . . . and if they do, they will need a leg up in the form of incentives".

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The CCDU was working "as quickly as possible in the circumstances" on the anchor projects, acting director Baden Ewart said.

Construction should start in "coming months" on the river precinct and north and east frames, with part of the north frame due for completion by the end of the year.

Suppliers had to be appointed correctly and designs done carefully. Developing business cases and buying land took time, he said.

- The Press

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