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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2020 Week 07 Hansard (Thursday, 27 August 2020) . . Page.. 2207 ..


buildings for decades. When I was a child, the main issue was, “Wow, they’ve happened,” but since then the main topic has been that some owners are just not maintaining their parts of it. It has been a perennial issue, making an appearance in the Canberra Times or the RiotACT at least once a year.

This level of interest shows two things—firstly, that the community really cares about these buildings; and, secondly, that the problem has not yet been resolved. Why hasn’t it been resolved? Whatever you say, it is not due to lack of effort by both the government and private sector. The ACT government has had several goes at this, dating back at least to the Canberra central planning team, which I am told was about 15 years ago. In the days when the city centre marketing and improvements levy was administered by CBD Ltd—a property owners’ group—it also had a go at it; but after all these years of trying, it is clear that the voluntary approach is not working.

I suspect that what is going on is that the buildings are trapped in a cycle of neglect. This is a common problem that occurs in cities around the world. A building, or even a whole area, gets a bit run down. Because of that, a few tenants move out and land values and rents fall. Less income and lower land values mean that landlords have less money to invest back into their properties, so the neglect gets worse. This cycle can run for decades, and it usually takes government action to snap the cycle. Once the cycle is halted, it can start to run the other way. More customers come, rents rise, investment rises, property values rise, and all of this brings even more customers. We have actually seen this positive cycle operate in parts of the Melbourne Building, where the West Row and Alinga Street sides have gone from rundown to thriving over a 20-year period.

This brings us back to why the community cares about these buildings. For people like me, they are a landmark and an important part of our city’s heritage. While city businesses and landowners they may well feel the same—that the buildings form an important part of our heritage—they also have very significant financial concerns. Having the Sydney Building, in particular, as a neighbour is a significant problem. Its neglect weighs down the entire area.

I acknowledge that some in the city business community are very nervous and conflicted about this legislation. That was certainly the case for one landowner in the buildings, who spent a substantial amount of his time with my staff helping us understand the problem. On the one hand, the idea of government having intrusive control over his property in the way this act allows is troubling, but on the other hand, he cannot see any other easy way out of the spiral of neglect.

The situation places a clear responsibility on the City Renewal Authority, and this bill gives intrusive but, I fear, necessary powers. The authority should use them carefully. For example, the revitalisation plan to be made under section 36B needs to be written in close consultation with landowners. It must include enough flexibility for landowners to manage the sometimes-complicated practicalities of renovating old buildings, but at the same time protecting the buildings’ heritage. It also needs to be reasonable in terms of cost. It will, of course, be difficult to make this work in the middle of the ACT’s first recession for decades, when shops and entertainment venues are under extreme financial pressure and commercial rents are falling.


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