Autumn leaves can’t cover CBD neglect

Walking through shabby streetscapes, Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith is shocked by the decline of Adelaide’s basic infrastructure – but says fixing it requires a council rates boost.

Apr 24, 2023, updated Apr 24, 2023
Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

I love this time of year.

Being a keen walker, the fresh Autumn mornings and warm afternoons give me the perfect excuse to leave the office and stretch my legs.

I’m constantly criss-crossing the city, and as a pedestrian, I’ve tried to have my eyes firmly fixed on the ground.

What I see is something the crunchy Adelaide leaves can’t hide – the neglected fabric of our city.

I’m talking about issues city users will be all too familiar with: uneven footpaths, cracked pavers, shabby streetscapes, and ageing council assets.

A vacant building on Currie St: Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Since being ‘recycled’ as Lord Mayor in November, I’ve been leading fellow elected members and Council staff on walks across all corners of the city to ensure that we know what we need to tackle.

I’ve been shocked by the number of main streets in desperate need of upgrades, from O’Connell Street in North Adelaide to Gouger Street in the city.

Not to mention King William Street, our city’s premier ‘ceremonial’ street. This strip wouldn’t impress a visiting royal or a raging footy jam.

A vacant building at the corner of Currie and King William streets: Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Every form of infrastructure urgently needs upgrading, from roads and footpaths to the Adelaide Bridge over the River Torrens and the nearby Torrens Weir.

Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

To their credit, our tireless council workers do a fabulous job. However, they can only work with the resources they’re given.

Why are we in this predicament? Years of frozen rates, waived fees, and slow revenue growth means the Council doesn’t have enough money to pay for these improvements.

Surprisingly to me, the budget has barely doubled in the 25 years since I was last Lord Mayor.

The Council has struggled to find the money to embark on visionary, long-term upgrades, such as those needed for the Adelaide Aquatic Centre, let alone the North Terrace boulevard, which was started in my first spell on Council and is rundown before the job is even finished.

The long-vacant heritage listed Gawler Chambers on North Terrace. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

I’ve been shocked by the number of main streets in desperate need of upgrades

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The previous term of Council did invest in some infrastructure upgrades, such as the hanging gardens of Gawler Place and the Victoria Park wetlands. However, they struggled to dent the growing list of big-ticket upgrades we desperately need to tackle.

Budget talks have just begun at Town Hall, and as one of the newbies on the Council, there’s a lot to catch-up on.

There will be plenty to talk about over the coming weeks about what’s being funded and what isn’t. However, we also need to address the elephant in the room: rates.

We need to start discussing post COVID-19 budget repair and actively charging for services after a five-year moratorium, if we want to be able to give our city a much-needed facelift.

Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Here’s what we’re working with: the Council has frozen rates for the past 10 years, and the only increase in rates revenue has come from newly built commercial or residential properties.

Years of frozen rates, waived fees, and slow revenue growth means the Council doesn’t have enough money to pay for these improvements

We also haven’t revalued our property for the past five years to find out how much ratepayers should be paying on their property.

Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Even before COVID-19, the Council removed fees for outdoor dining in a bid to encourage businesses to create alfresco areas. They also scrapped fees and charges for events in our Park Lands.

I have no wish to criticise past decisions. However, now more than ever, with rising costs of materials, services, and salaries we must get back to responsible reservicing and budgeting.

This will allow us to invest in our city and make a cast-iron commitment to spend wisely over a five-year investment schedule, including, I hope, giving a main street an upgrade every year.

Unless we can halt the race to the bottom, and do the basic work on our roads, footpaths, and parks, we can’t even begin to operate with vision and imagination and, dare I say, it ambition and audacity.

After all, it’s what our ratepayers expect from us.

Dr Jane Lomax-Smith is Adelaide Lord Mayor

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