Charter boats ‘‘squeezed out’’
By Sean Car
Docklands charter boat operators say they feel that they’re being “kicked out” of Victoria Harbour as the industry continues to seek answers over future berthing arrangements in the precinct.
Local residents living alongside Australia Wharf off Collins St have also continued to voice their concerns about plans to install new infrastructure to accommodate home berthing for charter vessels near their properties.
While plans for the development of Australia Wharf for charter vessels have been flagged since 2009, as outlined in the City of Melbourne’s Docklands Waterway Strategic Plan, local residents say they still haven’t been adequately consulted.
Signage stating, “Future Home for Docklands Charter Vessels”, complete with the City of Melbourne and Development Victoria’s (DV’s) logos, emerged late last year at Australia Wharf with the council investing $500,000 in fit-out works.
An aerial map of proposed berthing arrangements, which was included in a council presentation to charter boat operators in October last year, shows only a small area in the harbour allocated for charter vessels in Victoria Harbour at Water Plaza.
The section along North Wharf Rd, which is currently used by charter boats and heritage vessels, including the Alma Doepel and Enterprize, is to be allocated entirely for private berthing to coincide with future development from LendLease. So too is a section along alongside MAB Corporation’s future development at NewQuay West.
Space at the northern side of Central Pier, which has been permanently shut pending future rectification works, has been allocated for heritage vessels, while a significant section in the Yarra River at Australia Wharf has been earmarked for charter boats.
But Melbourne Passenger Boating Association president and operator of the Lady Cutler Jeff Gordon said the industry had never agreed to these changes, which would force charter boats to live “uncomfortably” next to private residences.
He said charter boat operators were all currently “limping along” with no certainty on monthly licences, adding that the lack of consultation and “bureaucratic paralysis” of the waterways continued to damage confidence.
“I believe that turning Victoria Harbour into a private boat precinct with marinas clogging the waterways with millionaires’ vessels isn’t really what we should be doing with our blue park,” he said.
“I think the activation of our waterways should come first and the activation through charter boats is paramount. All people are seeing at the moment is ‘plastic fantastics’. What they should be seeing is heritage vessels and opportunities to engage with the waterfront.”
Local resident Bill Modos, whose home fronts onto Australia Wharf, said he feared the plans would “destroy” the value of his property by adding noise, rubbish, pollution and congestion to the area.
“It kills my investment,” he said. “There’s no plans. No one knows anything.”
While it’s understood that passenger transfers would only be allowed at the allocated space in Victoria Harbour under proposed plans, a City of Melbourne spokesperson said arrangements were still to be confirmed.
“These details will be finalised when the wharf is completed and the requirements of the licence developed. This licence agreement will take into consideration the needs of residents and other stakeholders,” the spokesperson said.
“We have contacted residents to reassure them that the new infrastructure at Australia Wharf will not block views from existing residences. The licence agreements will also be used to minimise the impact of boats berthing in this area on noise and amenity.”
“We will continue to advocate on behalf of residents and other users. The use of private marinas is determined by the developer.”
The news follows the submission of a planning application by DV in July to undertake maintenance and repair works of the sheds at the Bolte West Precinct site at Yarra’s Edge, which has been long been nominated as a mixed-use maritime precinct.
A spokesperson for DV said it was continuing to refurbish the former shipping sheds (Shed 21) for future activation, with current works expected to be completed by November.
“Current building works involve necessary maintenance, repair and safety improvements works including connecting and providing the former shipping sheds to essential services,” the spokesperson said.
In 2019, The City of Melbourne approved an amended development plan for the site that included plans for maritime, public space and wellbeing facilities at the site’s western end.
The parcel of land on Lorimer St, part of which sits directly under the Bolte Bridge, has been discussed since 2006 when the initial precinct plan was approved.
A City of Melbourne spokesperson said it continued to consult with DV on plans, having allocated $250,000 towards advancing the project in its 2019/20 budget.
“Early plans include a mixed-use precinct incorporating commercial, residential, community, recreation, and waterways functions. Waterways and maritime use is planned at the western part of the site, which is expected to have a ‘working quay’ flavour,” the spokesperson said.
It is not yet clear whether the maritime waterfront facilities at the site would support commercial operations •