Firms keep waiting

Last updated 05:00 28/01/2013

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OPINION: Frustration seems to be building within the business community about the progress being made toward restoring commercial activity to central Christchurch.

As Jonathan Lyttle, of the property managers Colliers, notes, workers have returned from their Christmas break to a second year of substandard and overcrowded business space, wherever they ended up after the quakes, and they are "just hating it". He says businesses and agencies need decisions made soon so they can decide if, when and how they can return to the old central business district.

Some have indicated they are giving up, and it is inevitable that, with serious money involved, property owners, developers and other businesses will equate the continuing uncertainty with too much risk. They will want to make permanent arrangements elsewhere.

Among those who have already made that choice is Whare homewares store co-owner Andrew Wheeley, who has been trading out of a Beckenham garage since losing his Lichfield St shop. He has abandoned the prospect of returning to the city centre and is looking for new premises in the suburbs. Many former central-city businesses are "getting quite comfortable" out in the suburbs, he says.

The frustration is understandable, but even the people with the money need to have a little more patience and show more faith. What happened to Christchurch was extraordinary and the $25 billion worth of damage made it one of the biggest insurance events in history, even on a world scale.

The complexities of the demolition and rebuild, together with all the associated insurance problems, have been staggering. It has been a long two years since the city centre was abandoned, yes, but for much of that time there has been continuing seismic activity which in itself has added to the uncertainty.

It is tempting to blame Cera and the CCDU for the delays, along with their minister, Gerry Brownlee, but that would be too simplistic. Anything from asbestos to insurance glitches to the availability of heavy equipment can slow down a demolition job and, as we have seen, the demolition of a single building in a strategic position can keep whole city blocks behind the barriers.

Until all the key buildings are safely down, and the city is fully reopened, most potential central-city workers aren't going anywhere near the centre anyway. In the meantime, CCDU has cracked on and delivered its city blueprint within its own deadline, and a transport plan is due out soon.

Progress has been made toward the purchase of 215 out of 847 sites the Government needs to buy for the green frame and anchor projects. The balls are in the owners' courts on the remainder, at least until compulsory purchase kicks in.

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What would be helpful is more information, and particularly a timeline about when the city centre will open up and become a marketplace again. Experience tells us that things generally take longer than people believe (consider the relatively simple case of New Regent Street's shifting reopening date), but if Cera has a whiteboard somewhere with street names and dates scribbled on it, then that information ought to be made public, even with whatever cautionary footnotes are thought necessary.

What the business community wants, short of a green light to go ahead, is a timeline of when such a thing might happen. Then they can begin to make firmer plans.

- The Press

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