A Canberra City Deal is back on the agenda, with Chief Minister Andrew Barr set to write to Prime Minister Scott Morrison asking him to expedite the deal.
City Deals operates as a partnership between the three levels of government (or two, in the case of the ACT) and outlines a shared vision for cities and CBDs through planning, economic and social initiatives, and projects.
Being a member of the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors, Mr Barr jointly presented the case for new City Deals at National Cabinet last week, focusing on the importance of economic recovery for central business districts (CBD).
Mr Barr said that given the work from home flexibility during the pandemic, it was unlikely the full cohort of workers would return to city offices.
“The nature of CBDs will permanently change as a result of the pandemic,” he said. “Not everyone will come into a CBD office every day of the week.”
This would likely have flow-on effects for local businesses in the city precinct who would see their customer base dwindle.
As such, the ACT would be focusing on diversifying businesses in the CBD to increase the city’s economic stability, including more entertainment and residential buildings to help reduce the economic reliance on the 9-to-5 workforce.
The Australian National University and UNSW’s future Reid campus will play a large part in this diversification and the CBD’s economic recovery.
Mr Barr said the ACT Government would focus on getting people back onto public transport, the return of international students and stronger domestic tourism campaigns in the short term to help boost economic activity.
Mr Barr said the makings of a City Deal were already in the works after the Commonwealth agreed to invest in the second stage of light rail and flagged the potential to work on a range of future infrastructure programs, including new convention facilities, arenas, stadiums and cultural precincts.
The ACT Government would draw on its infrastructure plan during discussions, but Mr Barr said the City Deal should go beyond infrastructure and include policy areas like health, housing, higher education, national security and defence, tourism and the arts.
He added that a deal is unlikely to be signed until at least 2022.
The City Deal process has been half a decade in the making. Discussions were first held between ACT and Commonwealth government heads in 2016 before a memorandum of understanding was signed in 2017. The MoU included looking into the second stage of light rail and possible airport extension, realignment of Parkes Way and the enhancement of road freight networks.
A prospectus for a Canberra region deal was then jointly released in 2017 by the ACT Government and the Canberra Region Joint Organisation.
The Commonwealth Government first signed City Deals with Townsville and Western Sydney in 2016. A further six City Deals of between 10 and 20 years were signed in the four years to 2020.