Slow rebuild discourages CBD return

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 07:15 29/04/2012

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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Businesses forced out of Christchurch's quake-hit central city are becoming less inclined to return as time passes without any significant progress on the rebuild.

Lincoln University and commercial real estate service provider CBRE surveyed businesses in Christchurch in August last year and again early this year as part of a project aimed at gauging the impact of the quakes on businesses and their plans.

The initial survey showed 44 per cent of businesses wanted to return to the CBD, but that figure fell to 32 per cent in the second survey.

"The reduction is for various reasons, including frustration with the rebuild delay, and the likelihood rents will be unaffordable in new buildings," a report on the surveys' findings said.

"Suburban locations have also become more attractive because changes to businesses and client bases mean a CBD location is of lesser importance."

Based on the survey results, the two groups calculate that Christchurch will need less than half the previous office space - 180,000m2 as opposed to the 390,000m2 before the quakes.

Although this is a significant reduction, they say the likelihood that the new CBD will be smaller in terms of building size and geographic extent, will offset some of that shortfall.

"The research indicates demand exists to kick-start the CBD rebuild, but it is not going to be plain sailing," CBRE's research and consulting senior director Zoltan Moricz said, adding that some businesses had indicated they would wait until the CBD was ready before committing to it.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend accepted many businesses would opt for the suburbs, where rents were lower, but was untroubled by the move away from a centralised business district.

"If you were designing a city from scratch you would intersperse a city with nodes of intense commercial activity, so people don't all go to work in one place and live in another place," he said.

"As long as you've got good transport and telecommunications, which we will have, it's not a bad thing."

Some companies and government departments would return, forming cornerstones that would be the basis for precincts that "would eventually hold hands".

Financial incentives could be used to entice businesses to those areas, but throwing money at businesses was not really the solution, Townsend said.

"The biggest incentive is to create an environment that's conducive to landing capital in our city, and to being a business- friendly place where investors and property developers know they are going to crack a dollar long- term."

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Townsend's comments came as new Christchurch Central Development Unit head Warwick Isaacs said he was calling for tenders for a firm to lead the architectural, engineering and urban planning needed for a rebuild blueprint, which he has been given 100 days to produce. Tenders close on Friday and the successful bidder will start work the following week.

- Sunday Star Times

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