Development Victoria welcomes a new face to Docklands

Development Victoria welcomes a new face to Docklands
Sean Car

Docklands custodian Development Victoria (DV) has recently made a new appointment to the role of senior development director, with Niall Cunningham to play a crucial part in overseeing the precinct’s recovery from COVID-19.

The Irish-born chartered engineer takes over the Docklands portfolio at DV from his predecessor of 10 years Ronan Mellan, who will work alongside Niall as senior development director focusing on neighbouring precincts in Arden and Fishermans Bend.

Mr Cunningham is no stranger to Docklands having worked with DV as a consultant in his previous roles with civil engineering firm WSP and he has forged a career spanning more than 20 years in master planning and delivering precincts.

Having “always been driven by passion”, he described the opportunity to help shape the next era in Docklands as a “no-brainer”.

“If someone was to hand me a sheet of paper and [ask me to] write what your ideal next role would be, it wouldn’t be much different than what was on the page for this particular role. So, it was a bit of a no-brainer,” he told Docklands News.

“It was about that ability to come in and give my experience I guess, and skills in terms of what I’ve done in the past. I’ve worked on a range of different precinct scale projects that are regeneration and revitalisation projects predominantly in inner urban areas.”

“That is the work I’m passionate about and I’m working with stakeholders and communities and that’s the stuff that gets me out of bed in the morning.”

And while he hasn’t been in the role for long, getting out and engaging with the Docklands community is exactly what he has been doing to date.

More importantly, he said he had wasted no time in making it a central focus of his team to spend as much time in the precinct as possible.

“There’s no point talking about Docklands in abstract, it’s important to be down there and among it and really getting a feel for it,” he said. “We’re spending quite a bit of time down there.”

“From the get go, to be honest, I’ve been out and about meeting various different representative groups and partners that we work with down there. It’s really important to get those perspectives.”

With Melbourne being the most adversely impacted city in Australia from the pandemic, Docklands represents one of the nation’s hardest hit suburbs and the recent snap lockdowns in May have added further strain on efforts to rebuild.

In working hand-in-hand with the community and the City of Melbourne, the challenge for Niall and his team in the first instance will be to reactivate the precinct and reposition Docklands as a destination.

While early initiatives, such as DV’s recent support of the Docklands Chamber of Commerce’s Docklands Dollars initiative, have already proven a success, it’s the ongoing developments and activations that will determine the speed of the recovery.

And according to Niall, there was no greater opportunity in the short term than the revival of Central Pier and he said DV was looking forward to consulting the community as to what the next 10 to 30 years in Docklands should look like.

“Interestingly, the Docklands Act (1991) is 30 years old this year right so we’ve been on a journey for 30 years, but we’re still on the journey. I think there has been some great community infrastructure built in that time,” he said.

“In the short term, activation is obviously key and it’s not solely about what Development Victoria thinks but actually, what’s the community’s view?”

“The budget funding for Central Pier is really the next step. But the first step for us, is to get out to the community and do some consultation.”

“Rather than me telling you what the solution is I’d be saying to you we’re going to go out to the community and we’re going to talk to key stakeholders and actually get their views about the next 10, 20, 30 years in Docklands. What does it look like to you? What are the things that are great? What does that brand look like? So really, we’re in listening mode to begin with.”

With a suite of major projects still in the pipeline, including the redevelopment of Marvel Stadium, Harbour Esplanade, Greenline and major developments throughout Docklands, Niall said it was great to see some “strong headwinds”.

With a great legacy paved by Ronan Mellan before him, he said he was excited about the challenge of stitching all of these projects together by providing the “development glue” and leveraging the many great opportunities Docklands had coming.

“All of those schemes, it’s just fantastic that we’re talking about development pushing on in what are some really challenging times. I think Melbourne has done better than most globally in enduring the pandemic,” he said.

“So, really DV’s role is how we kind of stitch all of that together and the key focus for us now is on Central Pier and that waterfront, which I think is a key piece of glue in the middle of all of those projects.” •

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