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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Workers wary of lofty offices

Workers wary of lofty offices

Last updated 05:00 30/03/2011
Carpenter Richy Whitty remembers meeting his workmate's gaze when Clarendon Tower began shaking around him on February 22.

"There was a little [tremor] first and we looked at each other and said `That was a goody'. Then the big one came and we looked at each and I just thought `God, this is huge'."

Whitty, 35, was doing repairs on level 12 of the central Christchurch building with a team of Southern Construction colleagues.

Damaged stairwells meant he was trapped on level 10 for more than two hours until he and more than 100 others were helped out by firefighters.

"I still remember as we exited seeing the walls cracking. It was a bit scary, to say the least."

Since then, Southern Construction had allowed him to do residential and low-level repair work to avoid entering multi-storey buildings.

"None of us wants to go back into one. Maybe we would if they built a new one in the city centre. Maybe six storeys would be the max," he said.

He is not alone.

Employment lawyer Tim McGinn said he would never work in his level 14 office in Clarendon Tower again, even if it was cleared for use.

"Everyone is a bit gun-shy about large concrete structures. If I was offered something that was modern and about three or four storeys, I think I could cope with it," he said.

Christchurch Central MP Brendon Burns said it was important people were able to overcome their fears and go back into big office blocks.

"Lower-rise options are certainly starting to come into vogue because of the concerns people hold. We need to take account of those fears," he said.

Cities like Tokyo showed skyline and faultline could exist together and most Christchurch structures had stood up well, he said. "If people came out of a multi-storey building, then the buildings have done what they are designed to do."

The continued closure of the central city and loss of confidence in its buildings could not be allowed to turn Christchurch into "a collection of suburbs".

"We need to use and retain every viable building we've got to restore the economic heart of the city, and that means getting people back in there as soon as possible," he said.

Pete Whalan, of real estate agent Bayleys Canterbury, believed there would be a "psychological" resistance to returning to high-rise central business district life, but only in the short term.

"A reasonable number of our clients have offices in the city and they are thinking there might be some issues with staff, and that's only a natural reaction," he said.

It was possible those who moved from the centre as a necessity would come to enjoy working in the suburbs, making for a broader city.

Hotel Council Christchurch chairman Rahul Rai felt people would use high-rise hotels again as they had "very short memories". Foreign tourists, especially, were less likely to be concerned by quake memories.

However, "no vacancy" signs were dotting suburban accommodation, filled with out-of-town emergency workers, something that was likely to continue while much of the central city was off-limits and the city's hotel stock was reduced.

"The question is going to be whether more people are going to build hotels on the outskirts of the city ... in the future, maybe they are."

- The Press

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