Mark Bunt says the Rockhampton Regional Council needs to be held to account for their part in the lack of action to make empty shop spaces more appealing.
Mark Bunt says the Rockhampton Regional Council needs to be held to account for their part in the lack of action to make empty shop spaces more appealing. Maddelin McCosker

Council says it can't force traders to paint derelict shops

AN East St business owner says traders and Rockhampton Regional Council need to take more responsibility for the run down state of the shopping strip.

Menswear trader Mark Bunt, has been in the industry more than 30 years, said his store had survived many changes to the CBD, proving that local businesses with a difference can stand the test of time.

Mr Bunt has called on the council to do more, saying they should force landlords to upkeep their empty stores.

But Mayor Margaret Strelow hit back, saying the council cannot force owners to paint their derelict facades.

"We are limited in our powers,” she said.

Mayor Margaret Strelow says council can't do any more to fix East St.
Mayor Margaret Strelow says council can't do any more to fix East St. Contributed

"What we have done though is go 50-50 with the cost of painting and facade improvement in recognition that the facades are part of the public domain.

"We have had some great take up of the programme.”

To date 16 businesses have taken up the 50-50 offer since it was introduced in 2016, helping to lift the image of the CBD.

As well as the retail sore, Mr Bunt has owned the shop space next door for 15 years.

This is the first time it has been empty.

Having recently gutted and renovated the vacant shop, Mr Bunt says more landlords need to do the same to entice new businesses to the street.

"If the rest of the landlords took a bit of pride in their spaces and did up their shop fronts and cleaned them up to be presentable and not just have it sitting in darkness, I honestly believe it would show potential renters what it could be and people would be more interested in opening a business here,” he said.

While he thinks landlords need to take the first step, he said some have been left so long that council needed to intervene and make the spaces presentable.

Mark Bunt, from Mark Bunt Menswear, has owned the space beside his store for 15 years and this is the first time it has been vacant in that time. He has recently gutted the space and made it into a blank canvas to appeal to potential renters.
Mark Bunt, from Mark Bunt Menswear, has owned the space beside his store for 15 years and this is the first time it has been vacant in that time. He has recently gutted the space and made it into a blank canvas to appeal to potential renters. Maddelin McCosker

"Council needs to hold other landlords accountable for keeping their space at a rentable standard,” he said.

"If there was a residential block with overgrown grass, council would say you've got to mow it or they will slash it and send the bill to the owner.

"Council should turn around and say to the landlords and owners 'we are going to bill you, put it on your rate notice, if you don't do something about it'.

"Council needs to take more initiative with the upkeep of the street and put their foot down about the upkeep of shop fronts.”

Frustrated by the council's lack of effort to either knock down the two buildings they own on East St or at least renovate them, Mr Bunt says its lack of responsibility was 'disgusting'.

"I am just as dissapointed by council, they have two vacant buildings sitting there,” he said.

"They've said that more needs to be done to make the stores more appealing, but I am really upset that council hasn't taken responsibility for their own buildings on this street.

"It really irks me and they are a really bad reflection on the street and the other stores.”

Already receiving interest in his empty shop, Mr Bunt is hopeful that if more landlords made some small changes, East St could become a premier shopping strip once again.

Cr Strelow admitted that the community was clearly divided about the future of the CBD.

"Council can move in and clean-up overgrown grass (and add the charges to the Rates) because of State laws that allow us to control for rats,” she said.

"It doesn't apply to empty shops unless there is evidence of rats or other vermin breeding there, nor does it apply to buildings that are empty, nor those that need a coat of paint.

"It is purely about vector control.”

In regards to the two buildings that Council purchased, Cr Strelow said she agreed with Mr Bunt.

"It's been very frustrating,” she said.

"The plan became more complicated than a simple demolition, with plans to reuse the frame of the structures as a 'partially demolished' covered area.

"The partial demolition is planned for straight after Christmas so as to cause as little disruption as possible.”



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