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Only a miracle can save Docklands’ heritage fleet

29 Jun 2017

Only a miracle can save Docklands’ heritage fleet Image

By Shane Scanlan

Barring a miracle, Docklands looks set to lose its heritage fleet in the next year.

The tall ships Enterprize and Alma Doepel as well as the steam tug Wattle form the nucleus of a plan for a heritage precinct in the north basin of Victoria Harbour, but will probably be forced to leave because facilities won’t be ready in time.

Authorities have guaranteed the fleet berthing rights in Docklands but, without on-shore facilities, the vessels say they can’t operate.

In contrast, berthing and on-shore facilities are available in Williamstown and some operators are planning to leave if Docklands cannot offer what they need.

The three vessels are currently berthed at North Wharf, where they enjoy the extensive, but temporary, facilities at Shed 2.

But with Lendlease’s masterplan for the area approved, it is only a matter of time before the facility becomes unavailable.

Enterprize general manager Michael Womack explained that his not-for-profit organisation’s lease had now expired, but had received notification that it could stay until at least December 31.

He said, as well as a berth, the group needed adjacent offices, classroom, maintenance facilities as well as an area where it could make sails.

“Waterways (City of Melbourne) has guaranteed us a berth at Central Pier, but without land-based facilities, that is only part of the solution,” he said.

“We have to be realistic and plan for the next 12 to 18 months. We can’t wait five years.”

Lendlease says it can’t say how long the North Wharf facilities will be available as the area is still under Development Victoria’s control. Development Victoria says Lendlease needs to communicate its development schedule.

Over on the alternative site at Central Pier, Atlantic Group has a lease on Sheds 9 and 14 until 2025.

The heritage fleet has proposed that a former cargo shed, Shed 15, be returned to Harbour Esplanade to cater for its needs. But this plan would likely meet fierce community opposition as it would block the view of the harbour from LaTrobe St.

In any event, the wharf would first need to be restored in the areas where the condemned decks were removed in 2013. Development Victoria has budgeted for the return of one the decks in the north basin, but the project is yet to start.

Another impediment to progress is the lack of a single, coherent business case from the heritage fleet to help the relevant authorities justify the commitment. The vessels have separate ownership, objectives and operational models. So far, co-operation between them has not extended to giving the authorities the rationale they are seeking.

The Alma Doepel and Wattle are both undergoing restoration. Wattle is back in the water, but Alma Doepel still needs $700,000 before it can again float. Even if the vessels were operational, they would both need shore-based facilities for ongoing administration and maintenance.

The operator of Steam Tug Wattle, Sorrento Steam, is also looking at Seaworks Maritime Precinct in Williamstown as an alternative to Docklands.

Alma Doepel restoration director Peter Harris said his organisation did not have a “plan B”. He told Docklands News Sail and Adventure had been thinking about possible alternatives to Docklands but had not undertaken any serious discussions with anyone.

“It would not be helpful to play one group off against another,” he said.

Mr Harris pointed out that the future of Central Pier itself was under a cloud, with an audit currently being undertaken to determine its future.

He also said that the definition of “heritage fleet” had been challenged by some commercial operators, and this too was not helping their case.

He said Sail and Adventure had been invited to Docklands and, until told otherwise, it intended to stay.

“I’m trusting, perhaps against my better judgement, that it will all turn out well in the end,” he said.

Mr Harris acknowledged that the City of Melbourne and Development Victoria were seeking a business case from the fleet, from which they could produce a “community value statement”.

But he said he had “no idea what that would look like or the possibilities.”

He said the best thing he could do was to continue to professionally restore the vessel as a demonstration of integrity and capacity.

“I’m not sure I can play the politics as well,” he said.

He said Sail and Adventure had been consistently told by the authorities that the heritage fleet was part of Docklands’ future.

“But I haven’t seen a plan that says they want that to happen,” he said. “The target is a bit hazy.”

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