Lockdowns have exposed new challenges for Australia’s CBDs

Continual lockdowns and emerging working from home alternatives have made a significant negative impact on Australian CBD office occupancy rates, which creates further challenges for investors and small or medium businesses relying on office staff.

The announcement:

The Property Council of Australia’s latest office occupancy survey has laid bare the impact of ongoing lockdowns on Australia’s largest city centres.

The monthly survey of office building owners and managers has found that the occupancy level of Sydney’s CBD is sitting at only 4 per cent of pre-COVID levels, as the city battles to contain the COVID-19 delta variant.

Melbourne’s CBD is experiencing similar difficulties, recording only 7 per cent of pre-COVID occupancy in August.

Canberra’s lockdown resulted in the most dramatic decline in occupancy across the country last month, with the nation’s capital falling from 73 per cent to 8 per cent of pre-COVID occupancy.

Cities emerging from recent lockdowns recorded strong recoveries in the number of workers returning to their offices. Brisbane and Adelaide CBDs achieved 60 per cent and 65 per cent of pre-COVID occupancy respectively.

Property Council Chief Executive, Ken Morrison, said that the numbers highlight the challenge ahead for policymakers to restore Australia’s economic engine rooms.

“Our CBDs support millions of jobs and generate hundreds of billions of dollars in economic activity,” Mr Morrison said.

“We know that lockdowns are having a big impact on our CBDs, but it is encouraging to see that once lockdowns are lifted workers are returning at faster rates than we recorded in 2020.”

“CBD workers now know the drill when it comes to lockdowns, but there is still going to need to be a concerted effort form policymakers to accelerate CBD recovery as we move through the stages of the National Plan.”

The survey found a significant 26 per cent variance in the number of workers attending their offices between weekly peak days and low days in unrestricted CBDs.

“The recent delta outbreaks have not impacted all cities equally and have created two distinct challenges across our city centres,” Mr Morrison said.

“For the capitals that have been less affected, we need to find a way of enticing workers to increase their number of days in the office.”

“Once we’ve overcome the immediate threats to public health, it is critical that building owners and employers work together with all levels of government to get our CBDs firing on all cylinders once again,” Mr Morrison said.

“As Australia moves through the phases of recovery, we are going to need to rely on bustling and productive city centres to drive economic growth.”

A majority of respondents said they do not expect to see a material increase in CBD office occupancy levels within the next three months.

Source: Property Council of Australia

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