Return to CBDs should be New Year resolution

Office occupancy in major CBDs is still well below pre-COVID pandemic levels, and most building owners or managers do not expect to see a material increase in CBD office occupancy for three months or longer.

Property Council of Australia chief executive Ken Morrison said a national plan to support thriving CBD economies should be a priority for all levels of government in 2021.

“We are now at a critical juncture for our CBD economies, which are big drivers of economic activity and support hundreds of thousands of jobs. Our two biggest CBDS support 1.2 million jobs between them.

“While the rate of return to CBD offices Sydney has stepped up, it is still less than half. Melbourne is starting its journey out of lockdown, while the return in other CBDs has stalled well below their pre-COVID levels

“Recent decisions by the NSW and Victorian governments supporting the return to office workplaces are welcome, but we must keep the momentum going if we are to get our CBDs back to their pre-COVID levels of activity after the Christmas and New Year break,” Mr Morrison said.

“For every worker that returns to their office, that is more business for CBD cafes, restaurants, retail outlets and other service providers,” Mr Morrison said.

The Property Council has proposed National Cabinet implement a national roadmap for the reactivation of CBD economies, including:

  • consistent direction from state and territory governments on the return to workplaces aligned with current health advice, and include leading by example with the public service returning to their normal workplaces.
  • measures to boost confidence in using public transport through increased capacity and hygiene measures and the mandatory use of masks for commuters, as well as incentives to encourage public transport patronage.
  • a review of physical distancing requirements in specific settings such as public transport and workplaces so that businesses can plan their workers’ return with confidence with nationally consistent criteria for the relaxation or strengthening of these requirements and other risk mitigation strategies
  • a plan to safely restart migration during 2021, with international students first to return through an expanded quarantine program which could then be expanded to include criteria for business migration and leisure travel.

“Our CBDs are engine rooms of productivity, collaboration, innovation and enterprise,” Mr Morrison said

“We can’t afford to be complacent about their future without the right policy settings and incentives in place to get these vitally important engines of the Australian economy humming again,” Mr Morrison said.

Office occupancy by CBD

CBD

Pre-COVID

December

October

September

Melbourne

94%

13%

7%

8%

Sydney

94%

45%

40%

35%

Brisbane

87%

61%

61%

52%

Canberra

90%

65%

63%

46%

Adelaide

86%

68%

73%

67%

Hobart

96%

76%

79%

78%

Perth

82%

77%

77%

63%

Darwin

85%

82%

73%

70%

Figures are based on responses from Property Council members who own or manage CBD office buildings and cover occupancy for the period from 30 November – 4 December 2020.

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