City News

Vacant city: artists called in to fill space

The Barangaroo development in the northwestern CBD will contribute 681,000 sqm of space

Sydney is sitting on over a million square metres of empty commercial space as it faces a development boom in the CBD, prompting a council push for businesses to hand over their vacant floorspace to artists.

The City of Sydney’s 2012 Floorspace and Employment Survey covers all commercial floorspace in the local government area (LGA), in addition to a limited assessment of residential dwellings. It found more than 1.6 million square metres of vacant commercial space.

According to a council spokesperson, the vacancy rate is about nine per cent, just below the 10.4 per cent reported by the Property Council of Australia as the average Australian CBD office vacancy rate.

“[This] is on par with other capital cities including Melbourne and Perth,” the spokesperson said.

However, major developments across the CBD look set to open up even more office space, including a redevelopment of the Sydney Entertainment Centre site in Haymarket which will add an extra 22,000 sqm, as well as the 681,000 sqm Barangaroo development in the north-western CBD.

“Barangaroo is equivalent to three to four years’ supply of top-end office accommodation, so it’s hugely significant,” said Tim Williams, CEO of the Committee for Sydney, an independent city planning think tank.

The volume of vacant space is such that council is calling on businesses and developers to open up unused areas to artists for “creative activities.”

“Evidence from around the world shows there are significant economic, social and community benefits when space that would otherwise remain empty is made available for creative endeavours,” said the spokesperson.

The proposal, outlined in the council’s Draft Cultural Policy 2014-2024, erroneously refers to the 1.6m square metre figure as including residential space. However, a council spokesperson told City News that this is incorrect, and the number refers to commercial space only.

Councillor Linda Scott says the City should be pushing residential and commercial property owners to offer their spaces for affordable housing.

“The space could be rezoned if it in a suitable position,” she said.

“The City should be leading a conversation about how to stop it being vacant and how to best utilise it in the best interests of the community, and for that, I think the priority should be affordable housing.”

However, Cr Scott said her affordable housing proposal has the potential to sit side-by-side with the City’s creative spaces plan.

Council is not concerned about the extra commercial space set to hit the market once the Barangaroo development is complete.

“Commercial tenants at major developments like Barangaroo are likely to seek large, centralised spaces to accommodate a significant proportion of their workforce, whereas the vacant spaces recorded in the survey vary in size and are distributed across the city,” the spokesperson said.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said council’s plan follows on from earlier endeavours to open up creative spaces using the City’s own properties.

“To have a thriving culture we need to make space for creative people to live and work … We hope this approach inspires other property owners to examine the possibility of offering affordable spaces for creativity,” she said.

The glut of vacant commercial space can partly be attributed to slow economic growth over the last four out of five years, according to Property Council of Australia data. The average business in the City of Sydney LGA takes up 763.9 square metres.

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