Property Australia

Progress on CBD reactivation

Karen Jamal Karen Jamal May 11, 2021

The Property Council’s latest office occupancy survey reveals a big step up in activity in the CBDs of Sydney and Melbourne – but there’s still some way to go.


  Three key takeaways

  • Office occupancy in Sydney’s CBD rose to 59% in April, while Melbourne’s CBD increased to 41%.
  • All other capitals recorded relatively consistent office occupancy figures, with Perth CBD’s occupancy impacted by the recent snap lockdown
  • Property Council chief executive Ken Morrison heralds the results as “welcome progress”.


The survey of Property Council members who own or manage CBD office buildings covered occupancy from 27 to 30 April 2021.

The CBDs of Sydney and Melbourne alone are home to around 20 per cent of the national economy, according to Reimagining our economic powerhouses: How to turn CBDs into central experience districts. The report, published by the Property Council and EY in March, also found 15 per cent of Australian jobs are generated in CBDs.

“Melbourne and Sydney have been the cities hardest hit by the COVID disruption and it is encouraging to see the big number of workers returning to these CBD in recent months,” Morrison says.

“But Melbourne still has a long way to go and more state government leadership is needed to encourage public servants back to the office to bolster this recovery.”

Almost half of survey respondents identified worker preferences for greater flexibility as the main barrier to achieving full occupancy. Government restrictions and public transport concerns increased as an influencing factor following several localised lockdowns in recent months.

“Flexibility will continue to be a major feature of working in the post-pandemic world, but there is clearly still a long way to go until our CBDs reach the levels of occupancy anticipated in the new normal.”

The survey found that a majority of office building owners and managers are not expecting to see a material increase in occupancy levels within the next three months.

However, property industry is taking the initiative to entice workers back to Australia’s commercial centres through a coordinated program of activations and attractions, Morrison says.

In Melbourne, the Property Council has launched ‘FOMO Fridays’ in conjunction with the City of Melbourne and the Australian Retailers Association.

In Brisbane, the ‘Fridays in the City’ initiative will bring together reactivation efforts in partnership with Brisbane City Council and other CBD stakeholders. Similar initiatives are in development in other capitals.

Morrison says these campaigns aim to encourage city workers to “rediscover what’s great about their CBDs with numerous activities, events and freebies on offer”.

“Building owners and managers are not waiting for government leadership to drive CBD reactivation. We are proactively making the case for workers to return to their offices and reengage with all the benefits of face-to-face working.”

120521 - Office Occupancy - Chart

According to Reimagining our economic powerhouses 82 per cent of Australians are confident their CBD will continue to evolve. The report outlines a range of policies – including free public transport and parking, expanding green spaces and activating precincts – to turn CBDs into ‘central experience districts’.

*Results for Perth were recorded during the recent lockdown but reflect an overall assessment of occupancy for the month of April.