Lord Mayor Sally Capp spoke about reigniting Melbourne, the importance of city workers, and supporting businesses through events and activations at a recent Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) event. Here’s what she had to say:
Melburnians have endured the most days in lockdown of any city in the world – 262 days across six lockdowns, not counting the Omicron shadow lockdown we’ve had over summer – and the New Year has presented us with fresh challenges.
But I couldn’t disagree more with those who say the city will not recover.
Things will be different, we know that. We know that 9 to 5, Monday to Friday in the office, is no longer the working rhythm in the city.
We’re not daunted by that. We want to run head first towards it.
We are learning more about that new city rhythm. The biggest day in the city last week was Wednesday.
We know that there are more people coming to the city for twilight. How can we make the most of these new rhythms particularly for our small business traders.
Other big cities in the world are trying to reposition themselves as Central Entertainment Districts rather than Central Business Districts. Melbourne is already both and we’re not planning to give up on either.
We’ve all made sacrifices. Now is the time to be ambitious. Now is the time to take meaningful action towards a swift and strong recovery.
I am calling it – the worst of days are now behind us; we must focus on, and accelerate towards, a better future.
So how do we capitalise on our city’s advantages and use them to grow deliberatively and creatively?
How do we use the past two years to reset ourselves, and redefine what we are renowned for, and what our economy is fuelled by?
A city that plans for a sustainable and inclusive future and empowers people and businesses to realise their full potential.
A city of possibility.
National imperative that Melbourne recovers
On the topic of Melbourne as a Central Business District, let me be clear.
It is a national imperative that we not only revitalise Melbourne’s economy, but we set it up to thrive.
Before COVID, the City of Melbourne was booming.
We had one of the world’s most competitive economies with a Gross Local Product of $104 billion in 2019.
That’s 24 per cent of the Victorian economy, and 7 per cent of the Australian Gross Domestic Product.
We were the state’s engine room – our city economy was bigger than the economies of the ACT, the Northern Territory and Tasmania combined.
Melbourne was home to 497,000 jobs, 17,000 businesses and 52,000 international students.
We were the fastest-growing city in Australia, fourth in the developed world. Then, COVID came, and overnight our city came to a virtual standstill.
Visitor pedestrian activity dropped 91 per cent on 2019 levels.
Impacting retail pedestrian activity, which fell by 93 per cent.
With work from home directives in place, city office occupancy dropped to as low as 4 per cent.
And while we have begun to welcome our international students back, this process has been fraught with setbacks.
Currently, there are 50 per cent fewer international students in the state compared to March 2020.
The skilled worker shortage is creating further havoc for businesses who, having survived lockdowns, are now closing or adjusting hours due to a lack of staff.
Business must go on, even in a pandemic
COVID has taught us that nothing is certain, and adversity breeds creativity.
Like you all of you running businesses in these challenging times, the City of Melbourne was struck with reduced revenue and had to make swift operational changes to adapt to health measures.
Prudent resource allocation and strategic financial management has allowed us to step up in unprecedented times.
We realised $33 million in savings from operating expenditure, and worked hard to keep our people in jobs.
We delivered our essential services while supporting our residents and business community through rates relief, grants, support services and more.
During a time of crisis, where there were no roadmaps or rulebooks, we took risks – some were successful and others were stepping stones to bigger ideas.
We introduced initiatives like extended outdoor dining – which has more than doubled our outdoor dining presence, generating more than 800 new extended outdoor dining permits, in addition to the existing 750 that were in place prior to COVID.
Despite recording a deficit for the first time in 30 years, and over our council term an impact of more than $100 million to our bottom line – this financial year we’re delivering a record $789.9 million budget – the biggest ever in the City of Melbourne’s history.
This budget builds confidence in our city’s future and ensures we support and sustain our economic, social and cultural recovery. Now is the time for us to be investing in Melbourne’s future.
Our investments will lift growth not just for the next few months, but for the next 10 years.
We have devised a robust Asset Plan, Financial Plan and Economic Development Strategy that together set us on a steady path to deliver on the commitments we’ve made to reactivate our economy.
We’ve had our city forecasts independently reviewed and feel confident Melbourne can grow into a thriving $150 billion economy over the next decade.
But we cannot do this alone.
Which is why we have intensified our advocacy efforts to support residents, businesses and visitors on the big issues – like return to the office, local business support, and delivery of city-shaping projects – ahead of the 2022 Federal and State elections.
Our ambitions for this city must be matched by other levels of government, and through partnerships with the private and community sectors. And our ambitions are big.
City of possibility
The City of Melbourne’s four-year Council Plan was released in June last year, with a resolve to see Melbourne emerge from this pandemic period as a city of possibility.
Just over six months into its release and we’ve already made significant progress on that vision.
We are doubling down on our offering as a Central Entertainment District with an unparalleled reactivation and marketing program that builds back city demand for culture, entertainment, arts, sport, retail and dining.
This drives visitation and underpins Melbourne’s reputation as the events capital of Australia.
I negotiated a $300 million joint recovery and revitalisation initiative with the Premier to bring the buzz back.
Together with the state government We’re:
• investing $21.5 million on major events to reinforce our status as the nation’s events and cultural capital
• and spending $2.6 million to transform vacant shopfronts and support entrepreneurs and creatives.
• put on our biggest-ever Christmas Festival
• peppered the city with FOMO activations and promotions
• premiered our first television ad campaign since 2008
• and injected almost $60 million into the local hospitality industry through our popular Melbourne Money dining schemes.
It won’t surprise you to hear that the most popular restaurants diners visited with Melbourne Money were Chin Chin, Supernormal, Thai Town and Gold Leaf Harbour View.
And interestingly, the number one postcode for diners outside the City of Melbourne was Point Cook.
At the same time we will become Australia’s strongest Central Business District.
This financial year alone, we’ll deliver Council’s biggest-ever infrastructure program, investing $244.7 million in projects which will generate more than 2,800 jobs and stimulus now, to ensure we maintain capital city stature and shape a liveable thriving future.
• $50 million on the renewal of Queen Victoria Market, delivering 900 jobs alone
• $1 million towards the early work to deliver the $300 million Greenline project
• and $60 million to create new open spaces across the city.
We’re also creating a city of possibility for our entrepreneurs, startups and existing businesses, by establishing Invest Melbourne to facilitate headquarter attraction, business support and fast-tracked permits.
We’re transforming our processes with digital permits to reduce wait times from 12 days to two – or down to same day for some permit renewals.
And we’ll continue our highly-successful Business Concierge program to nurture businesses ongoing and ensure a more digitally-connected, smart city that is a magnet for talent, investment and growth.
We have set our sights on becoming the city that leads in clean energy innovation and green jobs by investing in Power Melbourne.
Climate change is a threat but it is also presents an economic opportunity for Melbourne. There are more than 100,000 clean energy jobs coming to Victoria and we’re making sure the majority of them are here in Melbourne.
Fresh from the success of two renewable electricity purchasing agreements, our Power Melbourne initiative will rally a wave of innovation in the mid-scale battery sector – encouraging a greater uptake of renewables and create opportunities for research, training and jobs.
Return to cities
As we implement these initiatives we also feel confident about our ability to transform and prevail. Cities always prevail because they are epicentres for opportunity – attracting people, ideas, business and investment from across the globe.
And we know that to create a city of possibility we are dependent on the vibrancy of our people.
Office workers, international students and skilled workers have been slow to return, hampered by the spread of the virus, ongoing lockdowns and more recently covid caution.
This has been crippling for our city traders. More than half are unsure they will survive the next three months.
We recently commissioned exclusive research with Redbridge that found 54 per cent of surveyed respondents intended to work at least one to two days per week from home.
20 per cent said the loss of family time due to commuting was their greatest hurdle for returning.
But, 59 per cent agree that, when working-from-home, work had consumed more personal life than they would like.
And 53 per cent of CBD workers believe people who attend the office are more likely to advance in their careers.
This is testament to the scale, serendipity and stimulation that is only possible in a capital city working environment.
I’ve always fought for flexibility in the workplace, but I’m also convinced that Melbourne is extraordinary when full of people sharing ideas and working together.
We need to start by welcoming city workers back. That’s why we’re calling on the State Government to remove the work-from-home advice as soon as it’s safe to do so.
We’ve seen how successful partnerships with the State Government have boosted our recovery over the past two years and we’re drawing on this constructive collaboration to deliver more for our city’s economic transition and growth.
Our targets for growth in this city have been independently assessed and underpin our confidence in Melbourne, the capital city of Victoria.
By 2031, Melbourne will look like this:
• $150 billion Gross Local Product, a 70% increase from 2019
• 600,000 jobs, that’s more than 100,000 extra workers in our city
• 270,000 residents, an increase of another 100,000 people
• a shopfront vacancy rate of less than 5 per cent, when it is currently more than 20 per cent.
Our daily population of almost 1 million people in 2019 will become more than 1.3 million over the next decade and they will drive the biggest city economy in Australia.
Melbourne has a distinctive offer as a central entertainment district and a central business district, both of which create a city of possibility.
Local Government plays a critical role in creating cities of possibility.
We are the level of government closest to its people, the level that interacts with the community on a daily basis.
We are far more than just roads, rates and rubbish. We have a solid track record to prove that we are up to the task of investing in and delivering a brighter future.
At this point in our city’s recovery, quality leadership, visionary risk-taking and powerful partnerships are required.
Only together can we build back better.
Let’s be energised by the possibilities for Melbourne, a vibrant Central Entertainment and Business District, and everyone who invests, studies, works, visits and makes this city their home. We all have a critical role to play.