One of the major debates that is being fought out around the council table is that the CBD is some kind of special area that needs to be protected from competition from other areas. There are certain councillors who are nakedly protecting their own personal land holdings in the CBD who are pushing for large amounts of ratepayer funds to be invested in projects that benefit the Four Avenues.
If we look at the other main centres and compare them with Christchurch it’s a no-brainer. Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin all benefit from CBDs that are relatively close to major freight terminals, in all three of those cases the ports (although in Dunedin the city port is secondary to the main port some distance out, there is also the main rail freight yards and a significant area of industrial land between the two).
In Christchurch the city, of course, isn’t close to the port. But we did once have a major freight complex in the Christchurch railway yards and it was designed to be a major passenger hub as well. Although rail freight has lost a lot of market share, the Middleton rail yards are the nexus that a number of major transport companies are based around, while at Woolston, the inland port terminal handles a lot of containers.
We have to face the fact that closing down the Christchurch rail freight yards in favour of Middleton and Woolston, has not actually been of great benefit to the CBD. The city should have moved at that time to shore up the central city by persuading NZR to keep the main transport terminal in Sydenham / Waltham as there was a large area available with four big freight sheds and all the tracks needed to service them. What is left now is a container storage and maintenance depot at Woolston, which used to be the Tranz Link site (later Toll Link); until about 10 years ago its neighbour was Daily Freightways. Both of these major transport players have moved west to Middleton. There was also the Tranz Rail freight terminal in Cass St, which closed up and moved to Middleton around 1995. Practically everything transport related at Woolston is part of LPC’s inland port complex. The majority of freight logistics handlers are at Middleton or further west (LPC has a second inland port at Rolleston).
There is still quite a lot of small scale industrial activity in Sydenham, but the area is slowly gentrifying into residential development, and many rundown poorly utilised buildings have come down since the quakes. Sydenham will become more residential over time.
There was no logical reason that the Sydenham-Waltham transport hub could not have continued at that point in time. It was just some planning decision that let this go west to Middleton in the 1980s when Railways had to rationalise their operations. The fact that Middleton is where all the major freight operators now have their hubs (except LPC) is central to the fact that there has been and continues to be major commercial expansion out in that part of the city, and less in the traditional CBD.