Development Victoria “very happy” with tepid response to Central Pier consultation
It may still be early days in the journey towards reshaping Central Pier, but the results from Development Victoria’s recent public engagement process don’t inspire great confidence for exciting days ahead.
Make no mistake – the future of Central Pier and the adjacent waterfront along Harbour Esplanade represents the key to helping unlock a successful future for Docklands. Get it wrong, and the consequences are seismic.
Here lies a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create something truly remarkable not just for Docklands, but for both Melbourne and the state of Victoria – a chance to rewrite many of the past planning failures that have plagued our waterfront precinct.
And, given the flow-on effects of the pier’s closure in 2019, paired with the battering ram that was the COVID pandemic, the process for drawing on the wisdom of the community to inform Central Pier’s future vision should be treated with due respect.
Following years of radio silence, the pier’s custodian – Development Victoria (DV) – quietly initiated a public engagement process in late October last year via the “Engage Victoria” website.
Separate to the announcement on DV’s website on October 21, supported by a push in the final two editions of Docklands News in 2022, the process ran for nearly 10 weeks until late December with very little promotion seen or heard elsewhere.
The centrepiece of this process was an online survey, a large part of which was made up of broad questions relating to different “vision statements”, met with corresponding multiple-choice answers.
While the second half of the survey provided space for participants to express themselves more openly, many of the questions were largely built off these preconceived vision statements.
And the response? DV told Docklands News that “around 250 people participated in the online survey”, results of which its acting group head of precincts Ronan Mellan said it had “been very happy with”.
“We’ve been very happy with the response to the first stage of our public consultation process. This will inform our planning for the future revitalisation of Central Pier and the adjacent waterfront areas,” Mr Mellan said.
“We will share a Place Principles and Vision Strategy in 2023 as part of our ongoing commitment to actively work with the community, anyone who has an interest in the project and our key partners throughout the process.”
Two-hundred-and-fifty people might symbolise a reasonable sample size for informing next steps. But for a three-month exercise on a piece of public infrastructure that represents hundreds of millions of dollars in lost earnings and thousands of jobs for the city’s economy, it seems an underwhelming figure.
Little about the process to date has been what one would consider deliberative – DV’s community workshop scheduled for December 6 last year was abandoned due to low interest, while the online webinar reportedly attracted “around 40 people”.
Still, DV said it was important to highlight that it was “at the start of the journey” and “no decisions have been made at this early stage”. It stressed that there would be further opportunities for the community to engage, but what those are, we still don’t yet know.
Community feedback will be captured in an “Engagement Summary Report” that will be made publicly available in coming months – this will be used to develop a “Place Principles and Vision Strategy”, which is expected to be released mid-year.
While there’s still more to come, the community will be understandably anxious about something they’ve seen play out all too often before in Docklands – more lip service, more reports and more paralysis.
But the opportunity to bring this iconic maritime asset back to life in a way that unites all Docklanders and draws Melburnians and visitors to our waterfront for the all the right reasons, should only provide scope for optimism.
In the words of long-time Docklands resident and Docklands News cartoonist Michael Lindell, Central Pier’s future must be one built on ideas, driven by thinking, and not more “dodgy words” …
“Central Pier presents Melbourne with a very dangerous and rare opportunity.”
“In the first millennium we were understandably preoccupied with moving goods.”
“In the second millenium we developed a chaotic obsession with moving people.”
“In the third millenium, now, we are struggling with our desperate need to move ideas.”
Central Pier must address this imperative, lest we drift from relevance. Central Pier should be a 24-hour ‘Ideas Exchange’.”
“This heart of Melbourne must be driven by thinking, not more appetites.”
Meanwhile, a procurement process is under way to appoint a contractor to carry out the pier’s demolition works, which is “anticipated to begin in 2023”. •