Lockdowns expose challenge for Australia’s CBDs

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% 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% 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% to 8% 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% and 65% 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% 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 3 months.

Office occupancy as a percentage of pre-COVID levels by CBD

NOTE: The Property Council’s CBD office occupancy data is presented as a percentage of the pre-COVID rate of office occupancy, which is estimated at 90%. If a CBD achieves the same level of occupancy as the pre-COVID norm this is presented as “100%”.

Apr-21

May-21

Jun-21

Jul-21

Aug-21

Sydney

65%

68%

67%

7%

4%

Melbourne

45%

45%

26%

12%

7%

Canberra

70%

71%

72%

73%

8%

Brisbane

70%

71%

71%

67%

60%

Adelaide

78%

78%

80%

15%

65%

Perth

78%

77%

76%

78%

77%

Darwin

93%

93%

88%

89%

82%

Hobart

91%

93%

89%

95%

94%

 

Peak and low day level of occupancy in office buildings


Figures are based on responses from Property Council members who own or manage CBD office buildings and cover occupancy for the period from 25-31 August 2021.

Media contact: Richard Lindsay | M 0422 022 746 | E [email protected]