Council encourages Docklanders to “participate”, but to what end?

Council encourages Docklanders to “participate”, but to what end?
Sean Car

The City of Melbourne launched its Participate Docklands campaign on March 3 – the day after Docklands News published its March edition.

The council has launched a range of “participate” processes throughout the municipality as it seeks “feedback and information” that will “influence” the development of new neighbourhood plans.

Through its Participate Melbourne portal, the council is inviting anyone with a connection to Docklands – be that resident, worker, business owner, student, visitor, “no connection” or “other” – to have their say on the future of the precinct before April 30.

“The voices of our communities have always been integral to the way that we work, as we deliver services and plan for the future of our wonderful city,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said.

“In an effort to become even more inclusive and responsive, we’re connecting with our communities on a neighbourhood level. We’re eager to better understand their needs and ideas.” 

“We’ve already heard from hundreds of residents, workers and visitors about what they love about Docklands and what we could do to make it even better, and we’re using this feedback to develop the Docklands Neighbourhood Plan.” 

The process is welcome news for community planning in Docklands, with the council and Development Victoria (then Places Victoria) having most recently completed a “Community and Place Plan” for the precinct in 2012.

But while any discussion of a “plan” for Docklands is encouraged, particularly amid the pandemic, the community would be understandably cautious about getting too excited about the prospect of any significant change.

While the City of Melbourne used part of its regular space in the March edition of Docklands News to promote the consultation process, no one from the council reached out ahead of editorial deadline to make a meaningful splash.

And while one could excuse the oversight of one missed opportunity, again, nobody has since reached out ahead of the April edition either. Many residents we spoke to had no knowledge that Participate Docklands had even been launched.

The council said it has also hosted a number of “pop-ups” throughout Docklands at locations such as Buluk Park, Ron Barassi Snr Park and Marvel Stadium during March to discuss the process with locals in-person.

Docklands News attended the council’s pop-up on March 24 at The District Docklands, which was advertised on its website as taking place between 2.30pm and 4.30pm.

For more than an hour, we scaled the shopping centre in search of the “pop-up” but to no avail. The teams at District Docklands centre management, nor Neighbourhood House had any knowledge of such an event taking place in the precinct.

A City of Melbourne spokesperson told Docklands News that its pop-up session at The District was cancelled due to low numbers and that additional sessions would continue to take place over the coming weeks. It’s understood council officers instead dropped into businesses in the precinct to engage with them individually, but the decision to cancel wasn’t published on Participate Melbourne.

Consultation at the pop-up session held at Marvel Stadium before the AFL game between Carlton and Western Bulldogs on March 24 was reportedly “very successful”, but to what end should football fans be consulted on neighbourhood plans for Docklands?

A spokesperson for the Docklands Representative Group (DRG) touched on this very point, raising concerns about how residents’ views were balanced against other groups, such as visitors or “other”.

“Last month, the DRG spoke directly with Docklands’ new City of Melbourne neighbourhood partner Fadi Qunqar,” the spokesperson said.

“We provided our perspective about current issues in Docklands, the key ones being safety (particularly in relation to alcohol and violence), the future of Harbour Esplanade and how residents could become an embedded part of the planning process – and not just a consultation step.”

“As regards the current survey, the DRG raised concerns about how the data was to be interpreted and the weightings given to different groups, meaning that the occasional visitor’s perspective shouldn’t hold the same sway as a long-term resident.”

“We strongly suggested that residents needed to be involved in the ‘sense making’ phase of the data interpretation, and that the next contact with respondents should not be the draft report “for comment”.  The DRG offered to be involved in this role.” 

“Our hope is that a more nuanced and resident-centric approach with associated priorities will be forthcoming – including ways in which residents can actually be part of shaping our neighbourhood according to our values.” 

The Docklands Neighbourhood Plan will be finalised in late 2022 and, according to the council, will “complement” the 2012 Docklands Community and Place Plan. The council said it would continue to work closely with Development Victoria to respond to community needs.

Get involved and have your say by April 30 •

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