Kickstarting our city centre

"Lacking a heart and a soul.”

"A mismatch of modern and dated poorly-maintained heritage buildings."

A place with "no oomph".

These are just three of the comments from more than 400 people polled on their views of Canberra’s city centre.

The results are clear. While Canberrans take great pride in their ‘bush capital’, they also want more investment in their city centre.

Transforming Canberra’s City Centre, commissioned by Canberra CBD Limited and conducted by KREAB Research, finds strong support from Canberrans in three areas: refurbishment of the Sydney and Melbourne buildings, adapting under-used buildings and revitalising Garema Place.

The report finds Canberrans are keen to see the revitalisation of Braddon and NewActon replicated in Civic, however views were mixed on introducing more high density residential living.

Those surveyed also questioned whether a major tourist attraction in Civic would add value. Moving the bus interchange, while acknowledged as a current eyesore, was not considered a high priority, and opening up City Walk to cars had a low-level of support.

Some of those surveyed spoke of Civic being a ‘ghost town’ in which buildings and land were underused. While more frequent festivals, markets and events in our city centre would be welcome, those surveyed recognised that the biggest opportunity is found in upgrading tired old buildings.

“Less tax, more incentives,” one person said – and they were spot on. The simplest way to maximise our opportunities in Civic is for the ACT Government to relax the flawed Lease Variation Charge which is preventing many buildings from being refurbished or converted to new uses.

The LVC was introduced in July 2011, despite industry’s concerns that the charge would discourage building upgrades and skew development to greenfield areas. Developers must pay LVC on any building that changes use, which is largely preventing adaptive reuse and renewal of these older buildings.

Canberrans care about their city. They see the problems – and they want them to be addressed. So let’s relax the LVC and adopt a taxation policy that supports building upgrade.

Only then will we kick-start Canberra’s heart.

Have your say at the ‘Civic Forum’ this Thursday, 10 September. 

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia