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Two columns in this edition have prompted these following thoughts. The first is by Angus Nardi of the SCCA in which he talks about some interests trying to change planning and zoning laws in relation to shopping centres. The second is by Tony Dimasi, who comments on the success of the Australian shopping centre.

These columns have me thinking about an advertisement currently on TV for a super fund: a little girl is talking to her class saying her father owns houses in London, office blocks in New York, shopping centres in somewhere or other…. The bottom line is that he’s just an ordinary bloke but he belongs to a super fund that invests his money in these assets.

It’s a good ad. It has punch and is very informative – there would be a lot of people watching who don’t really know what their super fund does with their money. Most of our centres have superannuation interests, as stakeholders and they (our centres) are one of the most sought-after property assets on the globe.

The answer is quite simple. For over 60 years they’ve consistently beat inflation and have provided a ROI during that time that is better than any other sector in the real estate market.

Again, a simple answer: because the expertise in shopping centre development, management, marketing and operations, the professionalism of those in these fields, together with the skills and professionalism of the research teams and anyone else involved in the business, is higher in Australia than it is anywhere else in the world.

It’s at this point that a simple answer doesn’t suffice. The answer is not complex, but it is involved and, in turn, involves influences from many fronts.

Australian shopping centres developed along different paths to those in the USA. Our centres were providing everyday retail needs for communities whilst, in America, the ‘mall’ was a luxury entity providing the ‘wants’ for the (then) richest society in the world.

Australian centres became part of the very fabric of the community. They were an integral part of community infrastructure just as much as was a school, a church, a hospital or a railway station. They were a reflection of the community in which they sat and, in the newly created suburbs, they became the community focal point.

Australian shopping centres were developed by the private sector, but they were influenced significantly by urban and town planners and other authorities, both local and state. Demands were placed on them relating to surrounding infrastructure, road systems, public transport requirements and the like. Zoning was a critical factor because, in an expanding country (population-wise), the creation of new suburbs and the conversion of land from its former use into residential and urban areas needed to be well planned, organised and orderly.

In the 1950s, when the first shopping centres emerged, Australia’s population was still under 10 million. Shopping centres made a significant contribution to the expansion of Australian towns and cities. It was a case of private enterprise working closely with government and the authorities to provide for the expansion of the country.

By the mid 1960s Australia’s population was 11.5 million and shopping centres were proliferating, as were the new suburbs. By the mid 1970s, when the population had reached 13.5 million, shopping centres were the norm and they had become the real community focal points of the new suburbs.

Because the development of shopping centres was so linked with the rapid growth of our communities, zoning laws, town planning regulations, constraints and requirements were compiled with all stakeholders – governments, local authorities, community representatives, developers and managers – coming together with a common goal.

As the 1980s dawned and the population reached 15 million, the majority of the new suburbs had already been developed or designated. The process was regulated, orderly and had community approval. Zoning had played its part.

The attraction for pension funds was that Australian shopping centres, as an integral part of community infrastructure, were long-term assets. Management function, lease conditions, terms of lease, market research, all together moved in a way that made the centres organic, responsive to changing retail demands, adaptable to demographic changes, expandable to provide for population growth. In summation, they were entities that reflected a responsible private-sector industry, working with governments and authorities to produce developments in a manner that was socially responsible.

The achievements of our industry from the 1950s to the present day are a matter of record. In general, our industry is undisputedly one that has a demonstrable corporate commitment to social progress.

The new wave of planning reviews outlined by Angus Nardi in his column (SCCA Comment, page 58) has their proponents disregard all of this stuff. The new suggestions take isolated cases – there’s no continuity, no overall policy or meaningful strategies suggested. It’s all just instant opportunism whatever the cost and it goes no deeper than ‘I’ and ‘me’.

Our zoning laws and regulations in relation to shopping centres have come about as a direct result of responsible and well-thought out urban and town planning directives, with all stakeholders having an input. Isolated attacks on these regulations, ankle biting on individual cases, should not be tolerated. SCN