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Renewing local communities: making empty spaces creative spaces

Media Release
Christine Milne 10 Aug 2010

The Australian Greens are today announcing an innovative policy to revitalise local communities by making empty shopfronts available to be used by creative small businesses at no cost to the owners.

The policy will be announced this afternoon with the idea's originator and founder of Renew Newcastle, Marcus Westbury, as well as Greens candidates for the Victorian Senate and Melbourne, Richard Di Natale and Adam Bandt.

"I'm delighted that the Greens have been able to work with Marcus to turn his brilliant idea that has done so much good for Newcastle into a national policy framework," Australian Greens Deputy Leader, Senator Christine Milne, said.

"It's a travesty that thousands of buildings around Australia are standing empty while thousands of small businesses struggle to find spaces to lease.

"There are shopfronts in city malls and in the shopping strips of rural towns that are boarded up because it is often cheaper for owners to leave them empty than to lease them at low rent.

"Allowing creative small businesses to use these spaces on a rolling short-term basis until long-term tenants can be found can do wonders to bring activity back to streets and regional towns, acting as a seed to stimulate local interest and manufacturing."

The Greens' Empty Spaces - Creative Spaces policy (attached) will:
• establish a $3 million grants program for groups to replicate Renew Newcastle's model;
• tweak tax laws to ensure that no financial disincentives exist for owners to free up vacant properties for creative enterprises; and
• provide for public liability insurance to be paid as part of the scheme.

Australian Greens lead Senate candidate for Victoria, Richard Di Natale, said "Why should it be cheaper for a building owner to leave their space empty than to have it occupied?

"We've all seen the amazing difference it can make to a local shopping strip or a town centre when just one or two old boarded up shopfronts get cleaned up and start being used again.

"The simple injection of life and activity really reinvigorates a community and this policy can bring that great benefit to towns from Bendigo to Geelong to Mildura and beyond."

Greens candidate for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, said "Even busy Melbourne has a constant turnover of empty spaces that could be used to great effect to incubate small creative businesses, from design studios to food coops to art galleries and much more.

"If we make sure owners of unoccupied buildings don't face any costs by allowing these businesses to use their premises, we can see Melbourne flourish even more."

Marcus Westbury said "This is a straight forward policy which would do a power of good around Australia. I thank the Greens for taking the lead on this and look forward to seeing the Labor and Liberal parties embrace it, too."

The Greens will be releasing more arts and cultural policies in the coming days.

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