As busy as Bourke Street: Push for CBD recovery gathers pace

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Ten major employers have vowed to return at least 70 per cent of their workforces to CBD office towers as part of a push to reinvigorate the ailing city centre, as traffic data shows road congestion across Melbourne has returned almost to normal.

The growing commitment to return to city workplaces came as Melbourne hit the major milestone of no new coronavirus cases for 14 consecutive days, and as pedestrian traffic and public transport use rose in the fortnight since lockdown ended.

A new normal: Crowds are slowly returning to the CBD.Credit:Joe Armao

While new data shows road use and congestion at 89 per cent of pre-COVID levels, public transport patronage is at just 30 per cent of normal, suggesting a lack of trust in trains, trams and buses.

Major organisations including NAB, ANZ, Metro Trains, PwC and Telstra have signed up to a City of Melbourne "CEO pledge", vowing that as soon as public health restrictions are relaxed, they will bring at least 70 per cent of their workforce back to the CBD.

Premier Daniel Andrews on Friday said the government was keen to get people back to the office safely but predicted the days of entire workforces flocking to city offices were over.

"That won't be the function of rules, that will be the function of the choices people will make after spending the best part of a year working from home," he said.

With Christmas on the horizon, Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp said the coming months would be critical for businesses in the CBD.

"This [financial] quarter really is often the make or break quarter for our retailers, for our hospitality and for cultural organisations, and if we can welcome as many people as it's safe to do so, that is our aim," she said.

Cr Capp intends to write to Mr Andrews asking him to revise the government's road map restrictions on working from home and the tertiary education sector.

But Mr Andrews has rejected calls to ease coronavirus restrictions more quickly, despite Melbourne achieving the key milestone of 14 consecutive "double doughnut" days.

Lygon Street in Carlton has been a popular post-lockdown destination.Credit:Getty Images

The National Retail Association predicted a solid few months ahead, forecasting on Friday that Australians would spend more than $50 billion, including more than $5 billion online, over the Christmas season. It forecasts Victorians will spend $13.8 billion, 4 per cent more than in 2019.

"I think when people come back, those perceptions and concerns around COVID will start to be allayed," Cr Capp said.

"When they see how clean the city is, how COVID-safe our businesses are operating, how respectful people are being about wearing masks and adhering to other measures such as sanitisation – all of those elements really bring confidence to people to be able to come back to the city."

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