Canterbury: Central Christchurch
Thu 24 Nov 2016 by Gareth Kiernan in Regional Hotspots

This article is part of the Regional Hotspots report. To find out more about the report and other hotspots, click here


  • Population growth 2013-2023: 105% (4,270 people)
  • Population growth in the city centre is expected to accelerate over the next 5-10 years, after having fallen by 33% between the 2003 and 2013 census.
  • The mix of residential and commercial buildings will change as less efficient commercial office space gives way to residential dwellings in the city centre.
  • Central government and large firms are returning to the city. Previous commercial occupants will be slower to return due to significantly higher rents.
  • Achieving a unique mix of retail activity is vital for the CBD’s success given the very strong hold suburban malls have on shopping patterns in Christchurch.

The bulk of the talk about earthquake rebuilding work in Christchurch has focused on the drift of the city’s population northwards and westwards, and the length of time that it has taken for significant progress to be made on non-residential work in the CBD. But one of the overlooked effects of the earthquakes was the sharp drop in Central Christchurch’s population as many older dwellings near the CBD were destroyed or cordoned off, and the shops and other facilities that serviced those people disappeared. Central Christchurch’s population shrank by 33% between the 2006 and 2013 censuses.

Estimates from Statistics NZ suggest there has been a small recovery in Central Christchurch’s population over the last two years, but further substantial growth is expected over the next 5-10 years. The necessary, but gradual, reconstruction of the central city’s building stock has enabled a reconfiguration of land use in the CBD. With Christchurch’s commercial building stock previously being relatively old and inefficient, the total footprint of the city’s office space is likely to be considerably smaller over the medium-term. This reduction in land used for office space is likely to open up more room for central city living.

In addition, the loss of some older relatively low-density dwellings within the four avenues has also created an opportunity for the construction of more townhouses and apartments in the central city.

The other key factor behind the reappearance of more vibrancy in Central Christchurch is the return of the central city workforce. Central government has committed to coming back to the CBD, while large corporate firms (for example, in the legal and accounting space) have also been willing to pay the significantly higher rents that brand new buildings have commanded. However, many other businesses that were formerly sited in the centre of town are less willing or able to pay much higher rents, which appears to be slowing commercial development work. We anticipate that the process of rebuilding on the vacant lots in Central Christchurch will take another decade, with landowners only pressing ahead with new developments when they have sufficient precommitments from tenants.

Nevertheless, gradual increases in the number of people living and/or working in the CBD will foster demand for additional retail options and other services. Christchurch has the opportunity to establish a relatively cosmopolitan retail offering more along the lines of central Auckland or Wellington, with a greater mixture of entertainment and hospitality, highend or international retail, and standard household retail than existed prior to the quakes. Achieving a unique mix of retail activity is vital for the CBD’s success given the very strong hold that suburban malls have on shopping patterns in Christchurch.

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