Council meets in Fishermans Bend, as recurring theme of transport rings “loud and clear”
Calls for urgent funding for public transport connections to Fishermans Bend in the form of tram and train services were again at the centre of discussions last month, as the City of Melbourne met with locals in the precinct on September 20.
As part of its “neighbourhood series” of Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meetings held monthly in different suburbs across the municipality in 2022, councillors gathered at the Australian Road and Research Board (ARRB) on Turner St in September.
The City of Melbourne is one of two local governments, along with the City of Port Phillip, governing what is Australia’s largest ever urban renewal project, overseeing the Lorimer precinct and the future Fishermans Bend employment hub north of the M1 Freeway.
The September 20 meeting heard presentations from various stakeholders about current plans in Fishermans Bend, namely the University of Melbourne, which spoke about its investment in the future national employment and innovation cluster (NEIC).
The university will begin a staged opening of a new engineering and design campus in 2025 at the former General Motors Holden (GMH) site, which was purchased by the Victorian Government to form the heart of the NEIC.
But following her presentation to the meeting, the university’s Professor Julie Willis said improved public transport connections were “essential” in making its Fishermans Bend campus a “viable place to be”.
“It’s essential for us to have public transport, many of our students and staff arrive to our other campuses by public transport – it’s something that they expect. It improves the amount of connectivity through to city and makes it a viable place to be,” she said.
“Melbourne is very well served by its public transport, but Fishermans Bend is like a black spot in the middle of it, with lots of roads going around it but not exactly great connection through public transport.”
“We really hope that we see that connectivity come online over time.”
Other presenters included chief operating officer of the ARRB Richard Yeo, Fishermans Bend Business Forum (FBBF) vice-president Murray Nicol and Fishermans Bend Development Board chair Meredith Sussex.
Mr Nicol said there was a sense among businesses in the precinct of “waiting for further transformation” and that the FBBF was constantly seeking out more information about the next steps from government.
“Fishermans Bend needs leadership from us all,” Mr Nicol said. “Fishermans Bend now deserves its time in the spotlight.”
While supporting the state government’s vision for the precinct of 80,000 workers and 80,000 residents by 2050, Mr Nicol said this vision would only be achieved through “collaboration at all levels”.
“We believe the biggest challenge is the collaboration across the Victorian state government, the City of Melbourne, the City of Port Phillip, the [Fishermans Bend] Taskforce, and also, not to forget, the federal government, in Fishermans Bend becoming a world-renowned area,” Mr Nicol said.
His comments were supported by Meredith Sussex, who highlighted the importance of “partnerships” in her presentation while pointing out the unique challenge of urban renewal in Fishermans Bend, which was largely privately owned land.
“It’s important to acknowledge that Docklands was publicly owned land. Most urban renewal around the world is done on publicly owned land. It is very unusual to be in this situation of proposing a massive urban renewal program in an area where there are 320 different private-sector owners.”
“It is really, really hard to do good urban renewal on privately owned land where development viability is fundamental.”
In stressing both this challenge and the scale of what was being proposed for Fishermans Bend both in terms of size and population forecasts, she said transport planning needed to be approached differently.
“Generally, we’ve planned transport once the demand is already overwhelming,” Ms Sussex said.
“So, what we’re saying here is that the plans for development are such that the transport will be overwhelming, very soon. And that’s the argument we’re all taking forward from the discussions today.”
Among other key issues raised at the meeting included new governance and funding arrangements for Fishermans Bend, and the release of detailed precinct plans for the Lorimer Precinct, which includes Yarra’s Edge in Docklands.
The council highlighted its Gateway to GMH project, which is installing new active transport links and street greening along Turner St to the future NEIC, as well as the pop-up Gateway Hub at Shed 21 on Lorimer St among its key initiatives in the precinct.
Acting Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said the City of Melbourne was “up to the challenge of delivering a project of this ambition and this scale”, and the council would continue to use its powers of advocacy to lobby state and federal governments for public transport.
Lorimer development plans endorsed
In another exciting sign of growth in Fishermans Bend, and specifically the Lorimer Precnict, councillors unanimously endorsed an ambitious development of a Turner St site in Port Melbourne.
Developer Springbank Properties Pty Ltd has submitted plans to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) to construct five new buildings in a “podium and tower format”.
Designed by Rothelowman, the five towers built upon four podiums would range in height from 31 to 50 storeys and are proposed to contain both standard and affordable housing dwellings, office space, retail premises and sports and recreation facilities.
The $600 million plans have already attracted interest from Australian engineering and construction company Acciona Geotech, which intends to establish its new national headquarters as part of the project’s first stage.
A report from council management said this investment alone was expected to create up to 860 new direct ongoing jobs within five years, and close to 2000 by 2031.
Acting Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said the plans represented a boost for innovation and the local economy of Fishermans Bend.
“The development will bring a suite of new amenities to this integral growth area, including both standard and affordable housing, office and retail space, as well as the potential for sport and recreation facilities,” Cr Reece said. •