Christchurch businesses abandon CBD - research

By Paul Harper

The earthquake damaged Christchurch Central will have a tough time attracting some businesses back. File photo / NZ Herald
The earthquake damaged Christchurch Central will have a tough time attracting some businesses back. File photo / NZ Herald

About half of the businesses which left the Christchurch CBD after the Canterbury earthquakes are not likely to return, research has found.

After the February 22 earthquake last year, most the central city, which lies between the Four Avenues, was closed down. Before the quake, the area was home to about 6,000 businesses, employing 50,000 people.

University of Canterbury researchers said the new CBD will have a different mix of businesses, and new long-term concentrations of businesses will emerge outside the central city.

Professor Simon Kemp, who supervised the research, said the CBD will initially house fewer businesses than it previously did.

The research project asked 209 businesses if they were satisfied with their new locations and whether they intended to return to the central city.

"Many businesses were content with their new premises and law firms said they were more likely to return to the CBD than financial service organisations. Building height did not emerge as a major issue, but rents may be," Dr Kemp said.

"Types of business not so likely to return include many retailers, those offering financial services and businesses that are concerned with making or repairing things. The longer businesses stay away, the less likely they are to return.

"A large number of businesses that used to be in the centre of Christchurch relocated after the earthquakes. The overall chance of return for bigger businesses was greater (55 per cent) than for small ones (42 per cent). Some types of business are more likely to return than others. For example, many legal concerns are likely to return - so as to be near the courts."

Dr Kemp said planning for other commercial areas outside the central city where many businesses have relocated to, such as Riccarton, Addington and Sydenham, would probably be worth undertaking.

"The earthquakes drove many businesses to the suburbs, but some would have gone anyway. We would not expect all the relocated businesses to return to the CBD and, indeed, it might be better both for many of the businesses themselves and for the Christchurch community as a whole if they did not. Indeed, the plans for a new, more compact inner city suggest that there might not be space in the central city for all of them.

"This is not the only piece of research that has looked at how Christchurch businesses are planning for the future. We encourage people to consider our research as one piece of the jigsaw and to look also at these other sources of information. The picture is complex and constantly changing.

"Businesses have tended to relocate to the west of the city (Riccarton, Addington, or a little further out). Secondly, most have not moved very far (Riccarton or Addington rather than Harewood, for example; or Sydenham rather than St. Martins)," Professor Kemp said.

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