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Welcome to Woden: tallest tower to empty as public service job cuts hit hub hard

Date

Noel Towell, Meredith Clisby and Fleta Page

Lovett Tower in Woden.

Lovett Tower in Woden.

Canberra’s tallest building, Woden’s Lovett Tower, is set to become a near-empty shell when hundreds of public service occupants move out in two years.

The news that at least two-thirds of Woden’s landmark block will be emptied out will come as a hammer-blow to the retail and office precinct, already being hit hard by public service cuts.

The federal government announced on Wednesday that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs will move most of its 630 Canberra-based bureaucrats from the tower in the city’s south to the CBD in two years in a move the government says will save $84 million.

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Veterans Affairs occupies 15 floors of the 22-storey landmark, with Environment and Prime Minister and Cabinet leasing the rest of the space.

The department will move into empty space in Civic leased by the Australian Taxation Office, which is moving to try solve the problems caused by having 4700 work stations sitting idle throughout the nation.

The veterans’ department confirmed on Wednesday that it would keep its Woden shopfront open.

The Canberra Times revealed on Wednesday that the Environment Department, which leases several floors in Lovett Tower, is about to cut another 200 jobs and could downsize by up to 25 per cent in the coming years.

The two pieces of news, delivered in less than 24 hours, of more than 800 public servants moving away from Woden will be greeted with dismay by the area’s service and retail employers, already battling tough times.

Other major Woden public service tenants like Health and the former FaHCSIA department, taken over by PM&C, are either downsizing drastically or gripped by "Machinery of Government" upheavals that mean they can’t guarantee their future in their present offices.

The northern section of the once-thriving town centre is now beset by tens of thousands of square meters of empty offices in run-down 1960s blocks, failed retail and hospitality businesses and shut-down federal government shopfronts.

Commercial real estate agent Greg Lyons said the departure of Veterans’ Affairs would hit Woden’s town centre as the department’s Lovett Tower space represented up to 7 per cent of the precinct’s office market.

The head of sales and investments at Jones Lang LaSalle ACT said the Woden town centre had 192,000 square metres of total office space and more than 15 per cent of it was sitting empty.

“It will throw a bit of a cloud over the market in the short term,” Mr Lyons said.

“There’s probably not a lot of anticipated growth in the public service so finding a tenant in the next two years will be difficult.”

He said the 40-year-old building, owned by Brisbane-based property giant The Cromwell Group, was B or even C-grade office stock and would need a major upgrade to attract a tenant while competing with other large buildings nearby, discarded by the public service and also seeking new occupants.

Shop owners in Westfield’s Woden Plaza spoke last month of worsening trading conditions, blaming the public service departure in part for their troubles.

“Business has declined so much over the last few years in the plaza,” one trader, who asked not to be identified,  said.

“I’ve been in the plaza for 28 years and I’ve seen the decline. 

“There’s a lot of factors, but the public service going doesn’t help … it’s just another nail in the coffin so to speak at Woden Plaza.”

Another shop owner also identified a declining public service workforce as a factor in struggles at Westfield.

“The loss of the public service across the road has been a big factor, there have been a lot that have moved from here to Tuggeranong and there’s continually cuts over here as well,” the retailer said.

“The housewife doing the shopping, she used to come over here at lunch time but now she’s not here… it’s becoming a one stop shop as far as Woolworths and Coles goes as well.”

Neither the Environment Department, Prime Minister and Cabinet or The Cromwell Group responded to inquiries on Wednesday.

65 comments

  • The clubs around Woden have destroyed the restaurant scene. The Hellenic club and southern cross club are the Coles and wollies of restaurants.

    Commenter
    Bob
    Date and time
    March 06, 2014, 2:44AM
    • The job losses in Australia seem to be well hidden but in fact is the worst rate I've seen in 53 years due to Govt making it hard for businesses to survive and compete. I am meeting people whom lost jobs and getting no responses from applications like a plague, and the worst sign is hard working qualified people are finding it very hard to get a new job. And here we are increasing our population more than ever.

      Commenter
      Brian Woods
      Date and time
      March 06, 2014, 8:50AM
    • Very true Brian. The mega companies doing OK for now are masking very bad signs with the very important small to medium business sector and our overall economy. These are the canary in the cage, and most economists foolishly ignore them. Most economists are employed by banks and real estates though and are under massive pressure to constantly talk things up, and reassure the sheeple to go into more and more debt. Got to further increase the gap between the rich and low and middle classes. Greed rules you know.

      Commenter
      peter
      Date and time
      March 06, 2014, 9:50AM
    • You do realize more people = more services= more jobs

      Commenter
      Haz
      Date and time
      March 06, 2014, 10:20AM
    • @bob,

      too true, in the 1980's there were lots of smaller clubs, they regularly had top 40 bands playing, members knew each other and staff,it was a community thing. Now they are just giant pokie dens. Go to somewhere like Bathurst, beautifully mapped out town, lots of street shopping with small mall. At least 13 Pubs, with food, entertainment. It is a great atmosphere. They don't knock down older character buildings like the ACT.

      I suppose some club will take over the Lovett building and have 17 floors of pokies.

      Commenter
      stoney
      Date and time
      March 06, 2014, 10:59AM
    • As an owner of a medium sized business (turnover around $50 Mil per annum) my experience is that we are fastly moving towards an economic environment where only the large corporates and government can operate. Margins are being reduced in most industires to the point that if you're not operating in an environment where volume is king your business most likely won't be around in the next 10 years. Not sure of the answer to correct the current trend but it is alarming.

      Commenter
      MrBusiness
      Date and time
      March 06, 2014, 1:22PM
    • Ha Ha Ha,

      I can't believe Canberra exists. Close the place down as it's bludging off our tax payer money and then some. It should be an agricultural area. Not a place for politician to go to weddings, parties, anything paid by yours truly. The rot has got to stop. The age of entitlement is over Canberra!!!!

      Commenter
      Andy
      Date and time
      March 06, 2014, 2:14PM
  • Canberrans can at least be thankful that andrew barr did NOT go and borrow over $600 Million to build his mega office in civic (with ministerial wing as pointed out by CT).

    Commenter
    stoney
    Date and time
    March 06, 2014, 5:24AM
    • Liberals committed to destroying local community and economy.

      Commenter
      Alex
      Location
      QLD
      Date and time
      March 06, 2014, 6:56AM
      • Rubbish, Canberrans have had it too good for too long with their snouts well and truly in the public purse trough and you know it.

        Commenter
        Ted
        Date and time
        March 06, 2014, 8:09AM

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