Businesses may have to return to CBD

LIZ MCDONALD
Last updated 05:00 03/10/2012

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Businesses displaced from central Christchurch may have no choice but to return to keep and recruit staff.

Property professionals say they are seeing dissatisfaction in the suburbs, despite Canterbury University findings that half of relocated central city businesses do not want to return.

Jonathan Lyttle, general manager of commercial real estate agency Colliers, cited a lack of amenities, overcrowding and driving distances as problems in suburban premises.

"Most of the businesses we are talking to are really concerned about worker attrition and the ability to recruit," he said.

A Colliers survey found three-quarters of corporate-style tenants, especially professional and larger firms, were keen to return, most within three years.

The central-city blueprint had "crystallised" opinions, and most corporates based in other cities wanted Christchurch headquarters back in the inner city, Lyttle said.

Rent was not a big overhead for most office businesses, he said, and suburban rents were inexpensive, meaning most could work around lease arrangements to relocate.

Until the earthquakes there were about 6000 businesses and 50,000 workers in central Christchurch.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee expects the central city to be reopened by the middle of next year.

Leanne Crozier, director of recruitment businesses Decipher Group, said satisfaction in the suburbs was "a mixed bag".

Many businesses enjoyed locations such as Addington if amenities were handy, while some further out in places such as Hornby were finding their location "a pain".

Simon Newberry, managing director of Ford Baker Valuation, said keeping staff happy was "certainly a motivator" for businesses planning to move back.

"They have effectively been moved out against their will because of the earthquakes, and now they will be getting a chance to reposition themselves."

He said staff were tired of driving half an hour to meetings and having few shops and cafes or places to sit for lunch.

"There are a lot more options of things to do in the city, and accessibility is paramount, everything is walkable."

Newberry believed tenant demand would drive the rebuild, with offices to come first and shops to follow.

Law firm Wynn Williams is operating out of a Shirley shopping centre and has signed up for new offices to be built on the St Elmo Courts site in the central city.

Wynn Williams partner and commercial property law specialist Jonathan Gillard said the practice was facing the same fight as many other businesses in keeping good staff.

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"Young professionals who are mobile can pack up and go to Auckland or Wellington or Australia if there's not the possibility of getting back into a city. They will lose them."

Working parents liked to use lunch breaks to do chores and save weekends for family time, he said, and younger staff wanted bars and evening activities.

Gillard expected "the pull to become stronger" as more of the central city opened.

- The Press

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