Melbourne’s Postcode 3000 policy is credited with turning around the fortunes of the inner city and making it a vibrant 24-hour destination. The city is now routinely voted most liveable place in the world.

The policy provided incentives to turn commercial buildings left empty by the early 1990s recession into residential apartments, as well as for the construction of new residential. The decade saw some 3000 apartments constructed, providing opportunities for businesses to cater to these new residents’ needs and creating a cosmopolitan CBD destination.

Property Council’s WA branch thinks a similar policy needs to be adopted in Perth’s CBD, which is struggling with rising commercial vacancy rates following the mining boom and a lack of residential population to make for an exciting city.

The inner-city residential population is “shockingly low” compared with the eastern cities, according to PCA WA executive director Lino Iacomella, with only 20,000 permanent residents. He says this needs to change if the city is to be globally attractive and vibrant.

“The city’s residential population has grown in recent years, but nowhere near fast enough to combat the dramatic reductions in workers in the CBD each day following the decline of the resources sector,” Iacomella says.

“Making matters worse, for those already living in the central or inner city, some core services are missing, which in turn makes Perth less attractive to potential new residents.”

He says sprawl is in essence being encouraged because housing on the fringe is often offering better amenities than the inner city.

“It’s a sad reality that those opting for house and land packages vast distances from the CBD are often receiving better facilities than those in the inner ring.”

These include things like parks and open space, and facilities like pools, community centres, schools and retail centres.

He says the government needs to treat the inner city like a greenfields site in terms of facilitating growth and infrastructure coordination.

“There needs to be serious investment in making the inner-city a welcoming and pleasant place to live. Funds should be directed towards the creation of pocket parks and new laneway connections and streetscape upgrades as well as other community facilities such as pool and community centres.”

Part of his solution is a typical development lobby call for increased floor space ratios and development allowances for CBD residential development.

Another is the conversion of commercial to resi.

The PCA is suggesting to pilot a commercial-to-residential conversion project in the CBD with a low-grade commercial building.

“The economics of the process are currently difficult to justify and create a huge barrier for any developer looking to undertake such a project,” Iacomella says.

“It is essential the government introduce a range of initiatives such as rate-holidays and/or temporary land tax exemptions to sweeten the deal for potential developers.”

New government projects could help

The new Labor government has implemented some changes that could help Perth improve its liveability, namely the METRONET rail project and changes to strata legislation.

“METRONET has the potential to transform metropolitan Perth into a connected and liveable city by being the catalyst for creating vibrant hubs along new and existing passenger rail lines,” Iacomella says.

The decision to introduce Community Title through strata reform, which had been delayed by the previous government, should also help to create mixed-use precincts.

“Community Title will enable developments that can provide affordable housing and meet everyday needs such as shopping and business transactions all within walking distance of the train station.”

It’s not the first time the Property Council has sought incentives to transform underperforming commercial assets into residential.

In Brisbane, the body in 2014 argued that poor vacancy rates in B and C grade buildings meant they’d be better repurposed as residential.

The Perth plan forms part of an overarching revitalisation plan for the western city, Big (and Small) Ideas for Perth, which has been prepared by Urbis and TPG + Place Match.

Other ideas in the report include:

  • Perth Shopping Town: coordinate and centrally manage a new CBD retail strategy
  • Brand Perth: Create a unique city brand to attract residents and economic development
  • A shared city agenda: form a joint body like a Council of Governments between inner city local governments, the State and Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority
  • Plan Perth: undertake new initiatives to plan ahead, including securing inner city transit corridors and programs to create a walkable city

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