Council satisfied with new Waterfront City plans
Almost 18 months after unanimously rejecting “fortress-like” plans for a major development in the northernmost part of Docklands, City of Melbourne councillors have supported “several positive design changes” to the project.
In September 2020 councillors voted against plans for the “Waterfront City East” site, considered the “the last substantial part of Docklands to be redeveloped”.
The site, which currently features a vacant lot and a multi-level carpark, is set to feature a mix of retail, office and residential buildings, a public plaza, and a large communal “high park” above the existing car park.
Previously submitted plans for the land, situated next to both Docklands Primary School and The District Docklands precinct, featured excessive building size, overshadowing, excessive car parking, and a lack of pedestrian connectivity, according to the council.
“It’s too fortress-like, with 60-metre street walls. We want a fully open and permeable proposal,” Deputy Lord Mayor and council planning chair Nicholas Reece said at the time.
But revised designs submitted by developer Ashe Morgan in March last year, brought before councillors at the February 1 Future Melbourne Committee meeting, had “addressed previous concerns”, according to a council report.
The council’s “key objection” to the initial proposal — a “raised deck” pedestrian link considered to be “highly problematic” — has been removed.
The original layout would have separated the proposed development from the surrounding streetscape, and its removal was “welcomed”.
Further changes to the plans include relocating larger buildings on the site to significantly reduce overshadowing of Docklands Primary School.
Overall changes to the building envelope have also, according to the council, created “acceptable wind conditions within public areas” — another area of concern with the original plans.
Land has also been provided to Development Victoria to establish a community centre on the site in future, something the council “applauded”.
“The revised design which removes the deck over the internal road is a significant improvement to the original proposal, as is the reduction of heights near the school and the provision of a sizable civic facility,” the council report read.
“It is considered that the amended proposal sufficiently satisfies the issues raised by council.”
The developer has also agreed to partner with Docklands Primary School to ensure the 8000 sqm high park, dubbed by Cr Reece as the “largest elevated park in Australia”, to ensure the space is flexible for use by students.
Cr Reece said the application was “very, very significantly improved” from the original plans rejected by councillors in 2020.
“Docklands has been hit pretty hard by COVID, but we’re [councillors] united in the view that it has a bright future as a waterfront suburb. But it all depends on the wisdom of the decisions we make now. The unvarnished truth is that some very bad mistakes were made in some of the early planning decisions,” Cr Reece said.
“I called in this application for a couple of reasons. One, for the importance of this site, it’s a very large and prominent site on Waterfront Way as the gateway to Docklands. I was also very conscious that there have been mistakes made in Docklands before, so I wanted to ensure we as a council gave maximum scrutiny.”
Ashe Morgan has worked with the city to address several key concerns we had for the site. A very significant change is the revision of the building envelopes. We’ve also heard about the removal of the raised deck; this is a very welcome change.
“This new application includes a new 8000 sqm public park. We know that green space is a big issue for Docklands residents, and at nearly one hectare, this will be the largest elevated park in Australia. [The plans] also includes unincumbered land for a new community space,” Cr Reece said.
“I think this will be a good development for Docklands that will stand the test of time.”
Despite the improvements, the council said issues remained regarding the building controls for the land, excessive car parking and insufficient bicycle facilities.
These were addressed via recommended conditions, endorsed at the February 1 meeting.
The new designs include plans for the tallest building to rise from 80 to 90 metres on the northernmost corner of the site (corner of Footscray Rd and Waterfront Way).
However, according to the council, this was “offset” by the reduction in the height of other buildings across the site.
Among the six large buildings proposed for the site ranging between 12m and 90m in height, plans for the public realm include:
- A “high park” on the roof of the existing car park;
- A public plaza opposite the primary school featuring bluestone paving, seating, trees and bicycle parking;
- A large public “arbour room”; and
- Activated retail areas called “the lane” and “the boulevard”.
The large site is bound by Footscray Rd, Little Docklands Drive and Waterfront Way.
According to Ashe Morgan, it hoped to create “a new village for Melbourne with all the uses, activities, spaces and places that support a healthy inner-city community — a genuine piece of Melbourne.”
The current multi-storey car park on the site, which predominantly services visitors to the District Docklands, occupies more than a third of the site.
“This limits layout options, but the applicant considers the retention of the car park is non-negotiable due to existing leasing commitments,” the council said •