By Brendan Rees. Photo by Murray Enders
Subsidised rent to attract businesses to the CBD, making the city more liveable for long-term residents, and funding iconic arts festivals and organisations have been proposed by the Greens.
With the CBD and Docklands having been hit hard by rolling lockdowns, the party said the pandemic had “fundamentally changed the nature” of the municipality and accused all levels of government of “just crossing their fingers and hoping things will go back to the way they were”.
Under a four-point plan, the Greens have outlined a vision to “reinvigorate” the CBD and Docklands to build a better city after the pandemic.
Using ideas from some of the best cities in the world, including Barcelona, New York, and Berlin, the Greens want to see rent reductions of up to 50 per cent for the first five years for businesses that sign up to long-term leases.
The party also wants to make the city more liveable for residents, which would see short stays regulated, greening laneways to create open spaces, limiting construction noise, reduced traffic, and implementing good quality apartment design.
Among its other proposals, the party is calling for up to 30 per cent of new houses in large housing complexes to be set aside for affordable housing, and wants arts festivals and organisations given five years’ worth of stable funding to ensure the city remains vibrant.
“We must also protect our arts communities and heritage buildings, yet right now one of our most iconic arts venues – the Nicholas Building – is about to be sold and is at risk of being turned into apartments,” the party said.
The state government announced a $44 million package last month to “turbo-charge the CBD’s recovery as workers and visitors return to Melbourne’s heart”.
This included $5m for the Melbourne Money scheme that would allow diners to claim 30 per cent off their bills – up to $150 – between Monday and Thursday each week when they spend between $50 and $500 at cafes, bars, and restaurants where meals are served.
The government would also provide $10.4 million to support outdoor trading and dining through permit fee waivers and new infrastructure, and initiatives to boost the night-time economy, and a further $15.7 million will boost the city’s events calendar including an expanded Christmas Festival.
Another $14 million would be invested to enhance public areas, refreshing familiar places with pop-up libraries and creative spaces.
An enhanced Business Concierge service to provide greater support for new businesses and help traders adapt to the post-COVID economy with funding of $3.6 million.
But Ellen Sandell, Greens Deputy Leader and State MP for Melbourne, criticised all levels of government saying they “don’t seem to have a plan for the future, beyond short-term enticements or just crossing their fingers and hoping things will go back to the way they were”.
“Melbourne’s CBD has been very hard hit by the pandemic. We should use this moment in history to envision what we want Melbourne’s CBD to be like longer-term and make it a better place to live as well as to visit,” she said.
“While 9 [am] to 5 [pm] workers may never return to the CBD at the same level, Melbourne’s CBD can and should be a great place to live, and a place to come for unique experiences you can’t get anywhere else.”
Under the party’s proposed plan, Ms Sandell said it would “bring vibrancy and visitors back to our city”.
The Greens’ plan comes as the Property Council of Victoria this month outlined its Reviving Melbourne plan to revitalise the CBD and fast track the state’s economic recovery.
The proposal included an additional $50 million fund to revive the CBD, a minimum three-week return to offices, and free public transport for three months once Victoria hits a 90 per cent vaccination rate as well as reintroduction of off-peak fares.
The Property Council also wants to see the population boosted through increased skilled migration and a full return of international students in 2022, reduce the overall tax burden on new housing and fast track planning approvals for new projects.
Its other proposals include the introduction of a strategy to bring new businesses into the CBD to boost jobs and investment and expand and fast track planning permit approvals for key urban renewal precincts in and around the City of Melbourne.
The Property Council’s Victorian executive director Danni Hunter said Melbourne was currently at just four per cent of its pre-COVID office occupancy levels and had the highest office vacancy rate in 20 years.
“The CBD needs our attention and our love, but most importantly it needs its people and a plan, and it needs them now. With Reviving Melbourne, we have set out the steps needed to get our city back on track to again becoming a globally renowned destination to work, live and play,” she said •