Stagnant CBD; industrial land, rental shortage; houses hold


p2575 Mall empty shop 7 400 By KIERAN FINNANE
Activity in the Alice Springs Central Business District is basically a “moving of deckchairs”: existing tenants relocate, responding to the incentives of other landlords.
Left: The ANZ Bank has relocated from this prime Todd Street North site, opposite the Visitor Centre, to Gregory Terrace. 
There is not a lot of new business coming to town. CBD rents peaked in 2010, when premises were earning in excess of $400 per square metre; now it’s more like $250-300.
This was the unsurprising but stark picture of the stagnant CBD presented by Andrew Doyle, of the Real Institute of the Northern Territory, to the Town Council.
It is not unique to Alice Springs though, reflecting a change in the whole retail market across Australia, he said.
Deputy Mayor Matt Paterson asked if Mr Doyle thought the Aboriginal art gallery in the CBD or the Anzac Oval precinct would benefit the surrounding businesses.
This was a bit of a Dorothy Dixer, as Mr Doyle was recently quoted in a NT Government media release on the very matter, as he himself noted.
The gallery project is “critical”, he said, all businesses would benefit from increased traffic and patronage, the CBD would grow, and the economy would grow.
Councillor Jimmy Cocking asked what would be the impact of bringing residents to live in a mixed use CBD.
That too would be “positive”, said Mr Doyle, the Uniting Church’s proposal for the Meeting Place (which incorporates mixed residential, commercial and community uses) is “critical”;  such mixed use, as is seen in other cities around the world,  is  “a way of generating economic activity”.
p2575 Mall empty shop 4 400(A comparative analysis of the two different approaches to CBD revitalisation would be interesting.)
Outside of the CBD, an urgent issue is the provision of industrial land, said Mr Doyle.
Left: A relatively new business, Wicked Kneads cafe, is for sale.  It too is in a prime central site, at the intersection of Todd Street North and Todd Mall.
The release of the Western Precinct and Ghan Estate 10 to 15 years ago led to an oversupply  for a long time but that land has been taken up and there is now new demand.
A number of rural land-owners operating businesses outside of current planning restrictions are under pressure to find commercial or industrially zoned land.
He said the product they require – 7500 sqm allotments – simply isn’t available in the local market and government needs to address this.
A case in point: Cr Glen Auricht had noticed that Stanes Transport has erected a sign on the old drive-in site (below). Is that land zoned for industrial use, he asked?
Mr Doyle said the company has been given DCA approval to operate there.
(Alice Springs News Online made further enquiries about the availability of  7500 sqm allotments. See additional reporting by Erwin Chlanda at the bottom of this story.)
In the housing market, Mr Doyle said there had been neither contraction nor growth over the last three years.
There is good strong demand for well presented, well priced houses but the unit market is struggling.
p2575 old drive-in 2 660
Cr Eli Melky, disclosing that he a member of the REINT, put to him that this is down to increased body corporate costs which reflect increased insurance costs, increased rates and a declining population.
Mr Doyle agreed on the first point, to a degree on the second although houses and units get much the same level of service for their rates, but not on the last. He said housing demand is generated within the local population, as children grow up, leave home, rent and then buy.
He hoped the NT Government would look to extend their First Home Buyers Grant, due to finish by the end of September. It is available for existing houses, covers stamp duty and provides up to $10,000 for renovation, which must be spent with local contractors: “a very worthwhile policy”.
There is pressure on rentals, mainly due to increased demand from Pine Gap employees, not those who work for US Government, but for the private contractors who must now find their own accommodation.
A company, AECOM,  is taking up head leases on good properties in “private areas” to cater to this demand.
This has contributed to the vacancy rate dropping from 6-8% two years ago to around 2-3%. Historically, once the rate falls below 4%, you start to see pressure on rents to increase, said Mr Doyle.
There is also a squeeze at the bottom end of the market. One bedroom studio apartments on Stephen Road that used to be available for $220-250 per week, have been renovated and sold off – 68 of them. This has created a shortage of budget accommodation.
Mr Doyle also called for release of more residential land to provide greater choice in the new housing market, at present limited to 800sqm blocks at Kilgariff, or small courtyard allotments at South Edge.
He would like to see Mt Johns Stage 2 released, or extension of the Stirling Heights or Albrecht subdivisions.
The NT department in charge of land administration is refusing to outline how industrial land at Brewer Estate, in the southern part of Alice Springs, can be obtained.
The issue has reached crisis dimensions with the creeping industrialisation of rural residential land in the farm areas, climaxing with the illegal use of a rural block, about 12 hectares, at Ilparpa by NT Link proprietor Tony Smith.
During the hearing of Mr Smith’s application for a transport terminal, since rejected by the Development Consent Authority, Member for Namatjira Chansey Paech stated that there was ample land for industrial use at Brewer and the airport (which is Commonwealth land).  He had run for election on a platform of putting an end to the abuse of rural land.
Alice Springs News Online, making follow-up enquiries, was told that there are 430 hectares available at Brewer.
After Mr Doyle told the Town Council on Monday that 7500 square metre blocks are not available we enquired further.
At 9.48am on Tuesday we emailed the “Communications and Engagement Unit” of the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics saying “wouldn’t that [land] be available at Brewer Estate? There are 4.3 million square meters. What’s the process of getting some of that?”
Brewer adjoins Owen Springs, about 1500 square kilometres of NT Government land.
When we received no reply we phoned the department yesterday morning. At 12.13 – more than 26 hours after our first contact – we received the following reply: “Applications for land at Brewer Estate can be made to the Department by contacting”
That’s an email address – not even a website.
We had made it perfectly clear to the media minder that this was an enquiry by a journalist, not a land developer, and asked for a reply to our original questions.
We still have not received any.


  1. The photo caption “The ANZ Bank has relocated from this prime Todd Street North site, opposite the Visitor Centre, to Gregory Terrace” serves – perhaps inadvertently – to emphasise the “moving of deckchairs” in the CBD, as the Visitor Centre itself was relocated to its present site a few years ago from its former Gregory Terrace location adjacent to the Civic Centre … and that particular building, the former Queen Elizabeth II Infant Welfare Clinic, that was heavily modified and opened to great fanfare in 1997 as the new Visitor Centre, remains steadfastly vacant.
    Aside from the shift of the ANZ Bank (which, incidentally, opened its doors on its former Parsons Street site in August 1962, exactly 56 years ago) and the recent Wicked Kneads shop on the opposite corner now up for sale, there has also been the closure recently of two nearby hairdresser businesses, too – one of which was for sale for a long time but obviously attracted no serious interest.
    Just yesterday, walking along Gregory Terrace, I was shocked to see “For lease” notices plastering the windows of La Casalinga restaurant, a long-standing business in this town and even something of an institution.
    This town has weathered significant economic downturns on previous occasions – the mid 1970s, the late 1980s and early 1990s – but I’ve never seen the relocation of so many businesses (the “shifting of deckchairs”) on such a scale as has been occurring in recent years. It’s quite a phenomenon.
    This situation is concurrent with the only significant new developments – the Green Well Building in Bath Street and the multi-storey Supreme Court building in Parsons Street – being occupied by government departments and instrumentalities, to the detriment of existing commercial lease stock in town. These developments, along with the re-opening of Todd Street North to traffic again, have done nothing to arrest the decline of the CBD, notwithstanding all the hype and propaganda of government and the private sector arguing in support of them.
    Recent history quite clearly shows that the proposed National Indigenous Art Gallery will prove NOT to be the economic nirvana for this town. Exactly the same rationale was given for the developments of the casino almost four decades ago, the major hotel developments in the 1980s and the Alice Springs Desert Park in the 1990s – clearly none of these institutions, either on their own or altogether, have assisted in averting the current decline of our town, and there is no reason or evidence to show that the gallery will prove to be any different.
    On the contrary, it will be yet another expensive long-term burden for the taxpayer to bear.

  2. Good Afternoon,
    In future if anyone wishes to discuss what is or is not happening at Lot 1604 Stuart Highway ( the old drive inn block) please feel free to actually ask the owners of the land to comment rather than relying on the opinions of others. All questions can be sent to our email address- or we can be contacted in business hours on 0456 524 107. We do not appreciate being included in a media conversation without being consulted first.
    Kylie Johnston and Mark Stanes (Owner/Director) Stanes Transport.

  3. @ Kylie Johnston. With respect, this is not a ‘media conversation’ but a report from a Town Council meeting open to the public.
    Perhaps you will want to take up your concerns with Cr Auricht and Mr Doyle, whose comments are accurately reported.
    Kind regards, Kieran Finnane.

  4. The Alice Springs Land Use Plan identifies opportunities for light industrial and general industrial land uses in Arumbera and / or Brewer Estate both south of Alice Springs.
    To the best of my knowledge the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics is conducting investigations / research into the release of industrial land in several localities in and around Alice, including land at the existing Brewer Estate to meet the current demand and of course the future demand. I’m also mindful that any future land release may require a resolution of native title depending on the location.
    I will always support home based businesses, small scale operators so long as the surrounding neighbours are not heavily impacted and they can continue to enjoy their rural lifestyle.
    Over recent years the Rural and Rural Living (RL) zones in Alice Springs have become an issue of contention.
    Due to previous poor planning decisions, a fatigued system has pitted neighbours against neighbours – a disastrous positon.
    We have inherited a system that has allowed questionable business activities to be undertaken in these zones and this is not the fault of particular individuals but rather of a broken system that requires reform.
    Reviewing the Planning Act to ensure that it reflects contemporary views and aspirations of Centralians is important.
    Consultation on the specific proposed changes to the Planning Act is open until September 7 and I would encourage rural residents to jump on-line and provide input through the Have Your Say website.
    The future growth of Alice Springs in my opinion is south of The Gap in areas such as the Kilgariff Estate, so we must ensure that planning legislation is reviewed to be strong and reflective as this will be paramount to ensuring that future growth can occur whilst making every effort to protect and safeguard the rural areas from urbanising and industrialisation.

  5. Hi Chansey, many thanks for your response about industrial land.
    Please respond also to these follow-up questions:-
    • When can we expect further industrial land to become available at Brewer Estate and elsewhere?
    • How much?
    • Will it be fully serviced?
    • Are Brewer and Arumbera subject to native title, and if so, have negotiations started with the native title holders?
    • Who makes the decision about what is “heavily” impacting or not?
    • What is being done about stopping wide-spread “questionable business activities” already in progress in rural residential areas?
    Kind regards,
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor

  6. Again the CBD is where it is not because of current commercial imperatives but for historical reasons associated with the Telegraph line and Arltunga. It needs to move South.
    There is land at Brewer and an inquiry into the status of allegedly Crown land south of the airport returned a variety of excuses and again I wonder how it is that land advertised as Crown land is not available for the Crown to use.
    Arumbera as an industrial park is not an option as it ignores the geographic realities of The Gap. The last traffic flow census there was done in 2009 (now hopelessly out of date) and in the meantime local government in several metropolitan areas are spending big dollars on short term recreational walking tours close to other facilities.
    Then we have the unique situation at Brewer where three major cross national Highways will intersect, with the shortest distance Brisbane / Perth being via the Outback Way and throw in an international airport, and rail hub, hospital with ample parking, and a visitors centre where busses can park and that’s where the future of the town lies.
    But we continue to procrastinate, just as we have with Kilgariff, where several high tech food production companies in arid areas have moved offshore because they were never encouraged to look here, taking their employment, investment, and research dollars with them.
    Instead we have canal frontage housing allotments without the boats (yet).
    And how about a defensive driving facility at the motor sports complex. Statistics show this to be a very necessary thing but completely overlooked as a means of catering for the growing number of senior students visiting here, and their cash.
    We need to stop looking backwards, and look for new opportunities.

  7. @ Trevor Shiell, posted 2nd September at 9:16pm: You are never short of ideas, although short of fellow debaters, which is a crying shame.
    No one can accuse you of not having a vision for the future of Alice Springs, but built on a floodplain, the CBD is, I suspect, here to stay, even if demolished over and again and the Outback Way, a long way off as a cross-continental road for commercial traffic.
    I have, for many years, often spoken with long-time residents east of the Plenty who yawn as they swallow flies.
    Your imagined future at Brewer rests on a reversal of the current population ennui, perhaps, even a decline when the next Census comes in, but I look forward to your posts because they are considered and never manipulative or mercenary.
    I happen to believe in history’s chief value that if you don’t know where you’ve been, you don’t know where you’re going, so I like to look back, but I’ve also seen dreams come true.
    A defensive driving school is out of the box.
    My hope is that the box is designed by an architect with as much vision as you possess. Vive la desert.


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