A Christchurch business leader wants to see critical decisions about the future of the city's central business district made within the next few weeks, following the earthquake which devastated the area last week.

"Speed is going to be of the essence here. The longer the city is closed off, the more people will leave it, the more businesses will relocate, they'll set up in other areas, and they may like those areas and never come back to the city," Richard Ballantyne, executive director of Ballantynes department store, said.

"Key decisions have to be made relatively quickly, in order to make sure that the confidence can be kept up to a level where people will feel that they can come back and build their businesses in the inner city. What those businesses will look like nobody knows at the moment."

Ballantynes was such a key destination, that, if managed well, it had the seeds for the development of a retail district around its site, Ballantyne told Radio NZ today.

It would be difficult for Ballantynes to go anywhere else, due to factors such as the size of its footprint, the fact it only worked very well in central city, and because it was synonymous with the inner city.

Despite that, if necessary, the company had the ability to rebuild a different business model, although he did not know what that might be.

The company did have plans to relocate some key drivers, particularly women's fashion, as well as having internet and catalogue units, and it was working hard to get stock into its distribution centre so it could merchandise in a different way.

While hopeful about the rebuilding of the inner city, Ballantyne acknowledged there had been concerns about the central district even before the first earthquake in September.

Issues had included the growth of shopping in the suburbs, commercial office space moving outside the four avenues central city precinct, and the near disappearance of the manufacturing sector.

Also, during the past 50 years large agricultural firms, head offices, and warehousing firms had been leaving the centre of the city or going out of business.

"So what was a thriving marketplace servicing the hinterland of Canterbury has become a very disparate, degraded city," Ballantyne said.

The four avenues area contained a large area, and there was no need to construct high rise buildings.

"Many of us believe we should aspire to be a small, aspirational city that's wonderful to live in, in Australasia," he said.

"It will be a very different city. It will have a smaller heart, but hopefully it can attract people to come and live within the four avenues."

- NZPA