Currently more than 40 properties are available for lease in Bunbury’s CBD with more than eight business having either already closed, selling or closing down in the past three months.
While local leaders assure the community that consumer confidence and economic growth is improving, a wall of for lease signs across the Bunbury Geographe region paints a different picture.
South West MLC Adele Farina said empty shopfronts were a huge concern with an Australian Institute report showing more people were employed as part-time and casual than full-time.
“It’s no surprise shops are closing – we have ignored the problem for too long and it has massive social ramifications,” she said.
“It’s a sign of no consumer confidence and people have very little spending money and it’s scary.”
Bunbury MLA Don Punch said anything that helped retailers feel confident about the future was important and the key to the city’s prosperity was visitation numbers.
“The government is investing significantly in improving urban amenities through the waterfront project and Koombana Bay and that is linked in to building visitor numbers,” he said.
“Consumer confidence is on a trajectory to improve, that is not an immediate short term solution but we know that ultimately people need to feel confident in spending.
“I think the chamber is doing everything it can, the state government is doing everything it can do, the council has come to the party and put forward the best proposition in relation to parking and informal feedback I've got from retailers is that it's been a great success.”
Mr Punch said if lithium company Albermerle went ahead with the proposed industrial plant at Kemerton it would boost the local economy but other opportunities needed to be taken as well.
“Bunbury historically has done really well out of major expansions in the mineral and processing sector – Albermle through its construction, contracting for ongoing maintenance and work, it would be a great boost for our economy,” he said.
“By the same token we need to make sure that our response to that is contemporary and that we are proactive in supporting the CBD so the CBD does benefit from that.
“There is a lot of work in this space we wouldn't just put all of our eggs into the Albermerle basket but we're hopeful.”
Commercial Realty principal Mike Jenkins confirmed demand for retail, services and offices had decreased in the past six months but said high rents were not the problem.
“This is an urban myth, the problem is lack of demand, not so called high rents,” he said.
“Many shops have closed down for reasons other than rent and if it was rent, it would have also been all the other expenses as well.
“The problem is when you have expenses, the income has to be at a level that can meet those expenses – there is no doubt that gross turnover levels have diminished across the board for many businesses.”
Mr Jenkins said the market was increasingly competitive with demand for certain products diminishing as online shopping continued to be the biggest disruption to businesses.
“The competition is fierce with more and more outlets in many more locations vying for the dollar, this is reducing income across the board and, with the inevitable increases in expenses, some small businesses are simply no longer viable,” he said.
“There is no quick fix but the city, the chamber, local politicians plus a large number of other organisations and groups are working very hard behind the scenes trying to make a difference, which business should get on board with and support.
“The CBD needs to rethink its position into the future – that can only be done if there is cooperation between property and business owners and a willingness to engage with those who are trying to make a difference.”
The Bunbury Mail will bring you more on this issue in next week’s paper.
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