Christchurch businesses face seven-month wait


IMAGINE Melbourne with soldiers and tanks locking down the city from Southern Cross Station to Parliament, and from Victoria Market to Southbank. Imagine the GPO building, St Patrick’s Cathedral and the Paris end of Collins Street in rubble, and one third of all the other buildings so damaged they have to be demolished.
This is the size of the challenge facing businesses in Christchurch, 10 days after the earthquake that devastated the city’s commercial centre.
For the businesses in the heart of New Zealand’s second largest city — shops, banks, insurance companies — it would probably be at least seven months before the area was safe to enter, delaying the reopening even of undamaged buildings, said Paul Lonsdale, manager of the Christchurch Business Association.
Business leaders met yesterday to start work on a plan. “The ambitious target that I have is that I hope within four months we can get our iconic store, Ballantynes, to open up again,” Mr Lonsdale said.
It is unlikely city businesses will relocate in “satellite villages” because outer suburbs already have malls, so business leaders are canvassing using empty land closer to the centre of town to set up a temporary CBD.
Boutique owner Kim Laurenson doubts she will join it. She is still waiting to receive the insurance payout for interruption to business from the city’s previous earthquake in September. She has no idea whether her shop in High Street is standing but is paying her three staff while they wait.
That she can pay them is because after the quake she ran back inside and grabbed her laptop with their banking details. She knew from last time it would be weeks before she could return. Many employees are receiving no wages, even though some employers are willing to support them for a while at least, because payroll staff can’t access documents or computers.
Ms Laurenson is uncertain whether to reopen. “Where do you relocate to? Everyone took the relocatable spots after the first earthquake. And who will come near you if you go back in the CBD?” she said.
Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O’Reilly agreed business and tourism were taking a hit, not helped by the flight of tens of thousands of residents, a simultaneous loss of skilled labour and consumers.
New Zealand was told yesterday to give up hope of any more survivors as emergency chiefs announced the rescue operation would become one of recovery. Seventy people were rescued, but it has been eight days since anyone was pulled alive from the rubble.
Prime Minister John Key said it was now time to “confront the permanency of our loss”.
Up to 100 international citizens died and he promised the government would help with the cost of repatriating bodies and waive visa requirements for relatives visiting New Zealand.
The projected final toll has been revised from 240 to 220.