Sydney Central Business District

Sydney Central Business District

(Private Members Statements, 24 August 2023, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

The central business district is Sydney's heart and soul. It is the engine room of the State's economy. It supports business big and small, the services sector, retail, creative industries, cultural and religious institutions, education, hospitality, food and beverage, nightlife, tourism and residents. Its built environment includes commercial and residential towers, heritage buildings and precincts, pedestrian malls, boulevards and transport hubs, bounded by parklands and the iconic harbour. It is a melting pot of different people, cultures and ages coming together for different purposes, activating the streets in the exciting way that big cities can be.

Central business districts across the globe suffered significantly from the COVID‑19 pandemic, and Sydney's CBD was no exception. Office workers emptied towers to work from home, shops and institutions were either closed or had few customers and the streets were vacant. It was a sad predicament for a region so important to the city and State. But new data has emerged showing that the central business district is bouncing back, particularly driven by visitor economies.

The Tourism and Transport Forum Australia engaged DSpark to analyse CBD activity across the country between November 2022 and April 2023, and the results show that Sydney's central business district is now in recovery. The number of office workers returning continues to grow. While their return is still below pre-pandemic levels, with working from home some days now incorporated in the work week under what could be a new norm, we should remember that only 4 per cent of workers were in their offices at the start of last year. Visitors are coming back in droves on weekends and at night, revitalising the city and powering its recovery. Weekend visits are closer to pre-pandemic levels and late-night visits have surged, with the number of people in Sydney's central business district late at night exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

New South Wales residents are spending most of their tourism dollars in Sydney and reinvesting back into the State. Domestic tourism in New South Wales is 17 per cent above pre-pandemic levels. People are attending cultural events and visiting cultural institutions. The new Sydney Modern wing of the Art Gallery of New South Wales is attracting new visits, and the removal of fees at the Australian Museum has attracted families from across Sydney to visit the city. This year's Vivid festival attracted a new record crowd of 3.3 million people. The festival ran over 23 nights and included the largest drone light show in the Southern Hemisphere.

The State has also seen an increase in international visitors by 15 per cent. Those visits provide new patronage to restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels and shops and keep the city alive. We must continue to invest in arts and culture in the city through cultural events, exhibitions and festivals to ensure this trend keeps growing. So that families can continue to visit and learn from its world‑class offering, entry fees to the Australian Museum must not be reinstated. I support the renewal of the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, which is currently hosting an amazing exhibition curated by Leo Schofield called1001 Remarkable Objects.

Importantly, the CBD's recovery relies on a public transport network that can get people in, out of and through the city quickly, reliably and safely without impacts on amenity. Public transport use in central Sydney has grown to 84 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. Light rail has transformed George Street and provides visitors, workers and residents with a fast way to move between Circular Quay, Central station and everywhere in between, including to visit shops, services and hospitality venues. The construction of the metro will make it easier for a new cohort of people to visit the city, but we need to keep improving the city's transport links with a focus on public and active transport.

Motor vehicles take up too much space and make cities feel hostile, whereas walking, cycling and using public transport activates the streets. Linking separated cycleways into and through the city, and resolving challenges engaging bus drivers, must be priorities. I acknowledge the work of the transport Minister to make our transport system more connected. Economically dynamic global cities have a strong and vibrant central business district. CBDs foster collaboration, innovation and resourcefulness, and enable businesses to support staff through training, brainstorming and team building.

Young people, students and people working in creative industries, technology and innovation will continue to be attracted to city centres, where they are close to others for networking and are provided with the buzz of city life. It is vital that we work to ensure that Sydney's CBD continues to be a powerhouse to the State's economy and future. I look forward to working with all levels of government to attract more workers and visitors to the Sydney CBD and help it grow in vibrancy and dynamism.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!