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Speech: Property Council of NSW


Councillor Angela Vithoulkas | Property Council of NSW
19 August 2016

Downloadable PDF: LINK

It is a pleasure to be with you this morning. Fortunately it is against a backdrop of modest vacancy rates and favourable conditions in the property sector here in Sydney. Thats is not always the case.

Including the building I am speaking to you in this morning, the built environment makes almost everything we do possible in the City of Sydney, and as much time is devoted to talking about the structures we build as it is to the people who inhabit them.

It is not lost on me that a special kind of people inhabit the property industry.
They need to be, given the cyclical nature, high fixed cost base, long lead times and capital intensive nature of the sector and the high regulatory impact from all levels of government, including and especially the one I will be seeking to occupy on September 10.

It was 6 years ago we felt the effect of the GFC with high vacancy rates and incentives, 8 years before that the tech wreck with a similar effect and 8 years before that, vacancy rates in excess of 20% for a time after the 1992 recession.

In a cyclical industry that often seems to live a minute away from disaster, this morning is your opportunity to consider what our role in Government is for an industry that experiences its ups and downs and yet remains the right hand of capital and the silent partner in the success of the Central Business District. We literally cannot live without you.

A feature of elections is they can seek to reduce complexity to absurd simplicity, so I have endeavoured to segway from sound bites to sound policy in this campaign. Here are a few thoughts on areas you hear so much about.

We hear so much about sustainability and what we expect from you of it. Injected into that are our well intentioned efforts to help you in respect of energy policy. In premium and A grade buildings, many of which are held or managed by the people in this room, you have done an excellent job in reducing energy usage and emissions, so perhaps you should be lecturing us on sustainability, not the other way around.

I would ask you to consider however that the majority of Sydney office property is not Premium and A Grade, and it is these secondary grade properties that do not have regenerative elevators, building management systems and many are still using R22 refrigerant that does enormous damage to the environment. It is those properties, more so than yours that yield the best return on capital through either redevelopment or recycling.

The future as I see for sustainability may well be a matter of more science and less art. It feels good to show everyone your solar panels, but their are often much gains to be made through more modest technologies that are less newsworthy and theatrical.

One of my staff said no one ever rang him to congratulate him on installing regenerative elevators or held a parade in his honour.

You don’t have to look to far from where we are sitting to see the effect of Government at all levels, the State Government has been busy with compulsory acquisitions, light rail and Westconnex. All of these have had a huge effect and will continue to do so for some time.

Nothing stands in property. Goldfields House was billed as the greatest structure of modern Australia at the time of its construction in 1974. Its tenants are now vacating for its redevelopment. This hotel we are in today ,was also a marvel at the time of its construction and has also been reinvented.

Non Residential Voting

The amended community voting franchise is a welcome development. To suggest it is an attempt to hand control of the city to the big end of town is not evidence based. All I ask people to do is reserve judgement until after the election and observe Melbourne‘s progress who have had the same franchise 10 years.

Whilst much of the property north of Martin Place is owned by institutional owners, it is occupied and leased by small and medium enterprises who are now voting. That they should spend their waking hours here, invest their capital, hearts and souls, pay nearly 80% of the cost of running town hall and be treated as subjects in an absolute monarchy and not citizens in a democracy is entirely counterproductive.

Planning Policy

We can all agree that Sydney is Australias only world city.

When I thought about the draft Central Sydney Planning Strategy the first question I asked myself was “would this cause anyone in this room to build something like Londons Shard of Glass, a World Trade Centre or any of the other bold architectural landmark buildings of the world”. I suspect the answer is probably not.

In respect of the shared residential provisions in new office towers, I don’t think they are going to work. While I am not a property manager, I have heard them comment on the enormous operating costs in a commercial office tower and the different kinds of services commercial tenants require. To blend those with residential tenants in a strata context with shared services at a cost that would be acceptable does not seem feasible . To share a property with tenants that have radically different expectations and uses also seems a stretch.

Greater Sydney Commission

We cannot live without greater Sydney and we need them more than they need us. The greater sydney commission offers us a cooperative framework to allow masterplanning at local government and organisational level to then coordinate with state government. Its a missing link in the planning biosphere.

Like everything else in 2016, cooperation is key – and I can’t stress that enough – without co-operation we won’t move ahead.

Circular Quay

We have to live with the Cahill Expressway. There is no simple solution. Given the number of owners and authorities and their legitimate interests, we should be trying harder but it would be nice to see some audacity in usage and design. We are probably long overdue for a bold idea.

Visitor accommodation.

Visitor accomodation I suspect will largely concern itself for 3 and 4 star hotels in the LGA, thats all that seems to stack up at the moment. It should be encouraged given its derivative value to other retail and business industries that will benefit.

Women generally.

I have never found being a woman an impediment. My advice is to get up, dress up and show up. Australia has much to be proud of in the progress its made and what it offers women.

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