City of Melbourne considers new year “back to work” campaign
The City of Melbourne will look at launching a “back to work” campaign in the new year in a bid to reinvigorate the CBD’s daytime economy, which continues to struggle post-pandemic.
Occupancy data from CBRE has revealed in the last quarter to September, Melbourne’s office buildings were at 56 per cent capacity, which was lagging behind every city in Australia.
Sydney and Brisbane had an occupancy rate of 75 per cent, while Adelaide had 85 per cent and Perth enjoyed 91 per cent of office workers being at their desks.
Melbourne’s office slump has prompted Cr Roshena Campbell to make a renewed push to get more workers back to their offices in the CBD, particularly for public servants who accounted for 13 per cent of all city workers.
“Melbourne's nighttime and weekend economy post COVID are thriving … but our daytime economy has not kept up. It hasn't bounced back and that's not good enough,” Cr Campbell said.
“We know that other capital cities have bounced back in a way we haven't. There are small businesses that are paying the price for that.”
Pedestrian activity showed at the Lonsdale-Spring St intersection, foot traffic was down 23.5 per cent compared to the pre-COVID benchmark period and 37.6 per cent down at Collins Place North.
In successfully moving a motion at the council’s December 5 Future Melbourne Committee meeting, Cr Campbell council management will consider options for a “back to work” campaign that would be launched in the first week of February.
It would include promoting events, dining, music, and other activities, while using existing programs and seeking partnerships with key stakeholders to entice workers back to the city.
“We want to remind people what is so great about spending your working day in the city, and so this motion calls on management to put together that back to work campaign to incentivise workers to return after the summer holidays,” Cr Campbell said.
The council’s small business portfolio lead Cr Jason Chang, who runs CBD-based retail business Calia, backed the motion, saying he and other small business owners “were on our knees” calling for more office workers to return.
“We really need to encourage workers to come back because that gives businesses the confidence to really invest back into the city,” he said, noting many were struggling to maintain mortgage repayments and other expenses amid rising costs of living and following years of COVID-induced lockdowns.
“The mental health issues that they are going through is huge.”
Small Business Australia executive director Bill Lang said all data indicated “that we still need to see leadership to bring the CBD back to life” during weekdays.
“Each time Melbourne attempted to rebound from the seven lockdowns the small business families of the City of Melbourne looked for leadership from the state government to lead the way back for their servants of the public to return quickly and with confidence to the city,” he said.
“Some corporate employers have stepped up as they know the professional and personal wellbeing benefits for their employees of being together making things happen for their customers and shareholders.”
Cr Campbell said while the return of public servants was part of the solution to increase office occupancy, “without them, the state government isn't sending the strongest possible signals that it is invested in this city's economic recovery and long-term growth”.
According to the City of Melbourne, the state government announced in March 2021 that public servants would be expected to return to the office at least three days per week but had not released public data indicating the levels of actual office attendance.
The motion also requested the council’s CEO Alison Leighton to convene a “roundtable with major employers” by March 2024 about how to lure people back to the office.
The state government and the Property Council have been contacted for comment.
Photography by Kina.