Demand creates trades drain

South Island towns and cities face losing residents to Christchurch as the city's rebuild gathers pace.

The $30 billion rebuild is expected to require 26,000 tradespeople over the coming years, and with recruitment already under way, the exodus of skilled workers from cities such as Dunedin and Nelson is beginning.

The present trickle could become a flood and lead to permanent population loss.

Dunedin is looking at how its businesses can benefit without relocating. The city council has investigated commuter trains so residents can still live in the city while cashing in on work opportunities.

"The more we can do for Christchurch from here, the less the pressure on the infrastructure and housing up there," council finance, strategy and development committee chair Syd Brown said. "It will benefit both cities."

The council last week appointed construction consultant Graham Williams as a facilitator to help Dunedin businesses plug into the rebuild by hunting out opportunities in Christchurch, and encouraging businesses to bid for the work. Some businesses were already deeply involved in the rebuild, but Williams said there were still untapped opportunities. "There is definitely more potential," he said.

Former Naylor Love chief executive Trevor Kempton, who has been involved in helping shape the rebuild project, said the appointment would benefit Dunedin.

"The cities need each other," he said. "It's positive to see the council recognising that, because it helps turn the revitalisation of Christchurch from what could be seen as a threat to Dunedin's future into a collaborative opportunity."

Since the February quake, as many as 3000 Christchurch residents have headed north to Nelson, but mayor Aldo Miccio concedes that the pull of rebuilding could soon see a stream of Nelsonians heading south.

"Nelson has always been vulnerable to exodus ... we tend to lose a lot of our youth and entrepreneurs," Miccio said.

Their destination was often Auckland or Australia, but as opportunities opened up in Christchurch, it was likely more would head there, he said.

"We will come under threat, potentially, but fortunately we attract a lot of people from overseas who are of independent means, and who come here for lifestyle reasons. So while we will lose people to Christchurch, we think it will balance out," he said.

Nelson businesses were already eyeing opportunities in Christchurch and some people were commuting.

Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn said it was inevitable the West Coast would lose skilled workers to Christchurch.

"It's going to create a huge shortage and that's going to cause problems. There's going to be frayed tempers when people won't be able to get tradesmen."

Kokshoorn said that although workers might choose to be in Christchurch during the week and journey 250km home to Greymouth at weekends, others would move permanently.

"Many tradespeople will take the opportunity to go because of the economy that will be building there, but at the same time there will be Canterbury people coming here who just want to get away from it all. We're experiencing that now so I don't think there will be a net loss or gain."

Sunday Star Times