No need for CBD

Written on the 20 November 2009

INVESTMENT in the Gold Coast from big capital city business is being stifled because the city does not have a single CBD, according to a Sydney business professor.

Professor of public policy at Australian Catholic University Scott Prasser says business focus groups have revealed a common complaint regarding the Coast’s splintered business districts.

“Business people coming from Sydney often complain that by not having one central business district it’s a deterrent to investment. They are used to a particular way of operating. The concept of a united Gold Coast community is more of an urban myth than a reality,” he says.

Gold Coast business leaders have vigorously defended their city, suggesting southern academics ‘get their facts straight’. Compared to capital cities, the Gold Coast does not have large-scale traffic congestion, while specialist cluster sectors, or various CBDs, actually foster synergy within industries.

Chair of Business GC John Witheriff, says the appeal of operating a business on the Gold Coast outweighs any negative rhetoric peddled by business owners in Sydney and Melbourne.

“We don’t have the transport or infrastructure to serve a single CBD,” says Witheriff, managing partner of the law firm Minter Ellison Gold Coast.

“The Gold Coast historically grew up as a collection of villages. Our view is that CBDs in large cities exist because people have historically needed to communicate by physically mixing together.

That is shifting with technology by making it more convenient via conference calls and other forms of communication.

“The business community successfully operates out of a number of different locations. After 20 years based in Southport, we moved the biggest the law firm on the Gold Coast to Varsity Lakes because our staff were sick of sitting in traffic jams.”

Witheriff points to the advantages of having specialist CBDs, eg: Coomera as the marine innovation hub; Robina as the tech and IT centre; Southport for medical and government; Surfers for tourism and Burleigh Heads for surfing industrial and retail.

“The trend around the world is for traditional CBDs to decentralise,” says Murray d’Almeida, chair of Connecting Southern Gold Coast and a director at Hyperion Asset Management.

“From a future planning point of view, infrastructure is the biggest issue on the Gold Coast. By having various villages you circumvent transport problems by not all travelling to the same place.”

Property Council Gold Coast chair Peter Trathen, believes the city will inevitably end up with two dominant commercial zones - a Southport CBD and Robina as a second hub.

“The Gold Coast won’t lend itself to the future in trying to centralise. I would hope and expect investment over the next decade, but it will be in niche sectors. I doubt that we will be able to compete in a broad sense with the corporate market in capital cities,” he says.

But Prasser believes population growth is impacting on the linear city nature and limited intra-regional public transport.

“The planning and infrastructure limitations of the Gold Coast have long been exasperated by in-fighting between particular interest groups. Key decision makers need to come together and be willing to put aside their personal agendas in order to create good policy, leading to visionary planning and positive community outcomes,” he says.

Most would agree that the city of the Gold Coast has held its own in a volatile economy. With recovery now occurring in key sectors of tourism and property development and SMEs powering the engine room of the economy, the city is growing up fast and cementing itself as a serious national business hub.

“It’s a city unlike any other in Australia,” concludes Trathen.


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