Property Australia

Top 10 ideas to transform the Top End


The Property Council's proposed 20 by 20 reforms are gaining traction, with support from Darwin's Council and the local community. What simple but smart ideas can revitalise Darwin’s CBD?

Ruth Palmer, the Property Council’s executive director in the Northern Territory, is a passionate champion of bold reform.

“Darwin’s Central Business District desperately needs a multifaceted suite of small and targeted reforms and incentives to enhance our revitalisation efforts,” she says, pointing to the Property Council’s 20 by 20 Reforms document as a “great place to start”.

Just last week, Darwin City Council publicly declared its support for 11 of the reforms, and partially supported seven, which Palmer says “shows that we are on the right track”.

In November, the federal and territory governments announced a $200 million City Deal, with a new Charles Darwin University ‘vertical campus' in the heart of the city.

Lord Mayor Kon Vatskalis has said it is a “deal that will change Darwin”.

Meanwhile, Darwin’s economy continues to limp along, and the city’s centre is peppered with vacant shopfronts and buildings. The Property Council’s February Office Market Report revealed a 17.2 per cent vacancy rate, although Palmer says the rate is more like 21 per cent.

Palmer says the Property Council recommends “rapid implementation” projects that can turn around the city’s fortunes within the next six months.

"We will continue to push for polices to reverse the economic downturn and to ensure the Northern Territory remains a competitive place to invest,” Palmer says.

Here are the Property Council’s top 10 ideas to transform the Top End.


  1. Alfresco dining and licencing

Businesses need the right policy environment to activate the areas immediately outside their premises for alfresco dining. The Palmerston City Council’s simplified alfresco policy is a good start, Palmer says, with an annual $20 application fee encouraging activation.


  1. Central Business District theming

Darwin’s local stone, Porcelinite, was used for buildings, street curbing, walls and footpaths from the earliest days of settlement. Just as Melbourne has used its local bluestone to create consistency throughout the CBD, Darwin can use its local stone to beautify the city.


  1. Commercial park hire

Darwin’s green spaces are the perfect platform for events. The Property Council suggests a basic rate structure that encourages activation, and free of charge access for small business operators to use CBD parkland when they host events for up to 20 people.


  1. Cool running

The Northern Territory Government’s scientific enquiry found that using thermodynamic heat exchange technology – like water or misting systems – is the most cost-effective and efficient means to cool the city. “Incorporating this technology into private buildings and public spaces requires a short and long-term plan,” Palmer advises.


  1. From market stalls to city malls

An incentive scheme is the best way to encourage market stall operators to transition from stalls to malls, rejuvenating Darwin’s markets while adding bricks-and-mortar retailers to the CBD. Palmer also suggests an online database would enable building owners to register vacant space for the purposes of temporary pop up activity.


  1. Leveraging the unique

“Visitors to Darwin can swim with crocs at Crocosaurus Cove, so why not sip coffee with a wallaby? Darwin has traditional Aboriginal bush food, but no Indigenous café or restaurant. An incentive scheme can kick-start new businesses,” Palmer suggests.


  1. Live music and night-time entertainment

Land use conflict remains a relentless issue for live music venues as they operate in established night economy areas with no planning controls to support their business or provide certainty. A restrictive covenant on all new residential land titles would protect venues.


  1. Permits for street parties in laneways

Laneways need to be made easier to access and activate. Currently, the only laneway events being organised are those funded and run by the government,” Palmer explains. A new class of permit that deals specifically with laneways would enhance their access, use and activation.


  1. Graffiti artwork

Palmer says Darwin can establish a “real grassroots graffiti artwork culture” in the CBD and suggests an online database – much like that for pop-up retail – would allow business owners to register their walls for street art graffiti.


  1. Student Concessions Scheme

Darwin’s City Deal funds a new vertical university campus in the CBD would be enhanced with a concession scheme to entice student residents. Property Council research has found that expansion of university facilities in a city’s CBD can boost property development approvals by as much as 296 per cent, Palmer says.


Download the Property Council's 20 by 20 Reforms to read more great ideas to transform Darwin.