Docklands: It’s time for a plan

Docklands: It’s time for a plan
Sean Car

For Docklanders, the closure of Melbourne Star last month represented yet another departure from our suburb that one can’t help but feel could have been avoided. 

To many outside our community, the Star’s sad end was met with the usual sense of inevitability about most things Docklands-related. 

Speaking on air to our Chamber president Johanna Maxwell in the wake of the closure last month, 3AW’s Neil Mitchell said he’d been a long-term critic of Docklands. 

Mr Mitchell referenced all the usual constraints in his latest critique – poor design, wind and Marvel Stadium blocking off city access to our waterfront.

As Mrs Maxwell rightly pointed out, Docklands has been the hardest hit suburb in Australia during the pandemic, with Melbourne Star now added to a growing list of casualties.  

Like Docklands itself, many will point to the Star’s fundamentals – its location, ongoing lockdowns, or the nature of development in the area – as simple explanations for its demise. 

And like our notorious winds and Marvel Stadium, those surface level issues, as acknowledged by the Star’s owner itself, were of course the key drivers of its closure. 

But to those of us invested in this community deeply enough to understand what lies beneath it, the “bleedingly obvious” continues to be compounded by systemic issues which have permeated through Docklands for more than 20 years. The pandemic is merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. 

What continues to be abundantly clear is that Docklands lacks any real vision. This place has no clear plan. Nor has it ever, really. 

And it’s a stark reality that has become even  more self-evident as the pandemic continues to eat away at our suburb. 

When speaking with Neil Mitchell, Mrs Maxwell again re-prosecuted the Chamber’s vision for a laser and light show – a permanent activation of our greatest and most under-utilised asset – Victoria Harbour. 

While the concept of “permanent activation” in itself is everyone’s ambition, in response Mr Mitchell said, “I think it’s more basic than that”, suggesting “more green spaces”. Good idea, Neil … how about Harbour Esplanade? 

Whatever the solutions are, the inability to gain any traction in unearthing and realising them stems from the bureaucratic planning complexities in Docklands, which continue to hinder “activation” and “community”. 

Since 2007 when Development Victoria (formerly the Docklands Authority, then VicUrban, then Places Victoria) started “power-sharing” with the City of Melbourne, Docklands has been in a state of paralysis. 

Readers of this masthead will probably be tired of us banging on about DV’s ongoing Docklands Activation Strategy saga since midway through 2020 when the initiative was first conceived. 

The strategy was meant to be our mini version of Victoria’s roadmap out of COVID; something for businesses and the community to look forward to, plan for and provide a basis for discussion, hope and optimism. 


But like much of what DV puts its name to, the strategy has now been taken behind closed doors, away from the stakeholders who contributed to it, including Docklands News, and repositioned as a “working document”. 


It’s a similarly inadequate process to then VicUrban’s Docklands Second Decade, or “D2”, strategy from 2010, when it claimed that five big ideas for the area were generated by “extensive” community consultation. 

Those big ideas were Central Pier, Harbour Esplanade, a Harbour Link, the library and Western Park – ideas which were already well known about at the time and had been floated “inside the tent” for years. 

And in the second decade that has now transpired, just two of its “big ideas”, Library at the Dock and Ron Barassi Snr Park, have come to pass … as for the others? 

  • Central Pier: Allowed to deteriorate for years before being abruptly shut for good since 2019. The community is still waiting to be “consulted” on what its future will look like. 
  • Harbour Esplanade: Where to begin? A blueprint was released in 2014 by then Places Victoria for a “significant waterside destination” and community consultation followed. But again, little has happened, largely off the back of the AFL’s plans for Marvel Stadium – another project which has so far proven fruitless for Docklands. 
  • Harbour Link: The concept of a floating, structural or pivoting loop around the harbour, which has again been put forward in the activation strategy – not that the community would ever know!

While there is no silver bullet to solving Docklands’ woes, we have to start somewhere, and that somewhere might be DV easing the bureaucratic paralysis by beginning an exit strategy from Docklands. 

Until then, Docklands will continue to spin around in circles while the pandemic claims more of its stakeholders like the Melbourne Star, which, had it not been for our lack of vision, might have endured. Who’s to know? 

DV’s activation strategy apparently includes 10 key delivery items. Among them are “building a destination”, focusing on Victoria Harbour as the centrepiece and not just concentrating on one-off “sugar hit” events like Firelight. 

So, what are the one-percenters? What are the little things that will get things moving in the interim and celebrate our magnificent waterways? 

The City of Melbourne, under the leadership of a “boatie” CEO in Justin Hanney, finally seems to be making some progress in this space. Its $3.3 million allocation to waterways recreation and infrastructure in its latest budget certainly represents a turning of the tide. 

Former councillor Jackie Watts is also doing great work leveraging our maritime assets. 

As we emerge from COVID-19, we need to hit the ground running and that could begin by DV putting an end to its power struggle in Docklands, and handing over the keys to the council. 

It’s time for a Docklands plan. We need vision, and we need to start now. The consequence of failing to move on this is a “third decade” as stagnant as the last two. 

And with a freight bridge still threatening to choke our waterways out of existence, Docklands needs to keep loudly championing its own cause before it’s too late …

Docklanders … we want to hear from you!

Docklands News invites readers to get in touch by sending us your thoughts on what you would like to see in your suburb as we re-emerge from lockdowns. 

What would you like to see on Central Pier? How would you like to see the waterways maximised? What attractions and events would you like to see more of? 

Let’s get the discussion going •

Send your thoughts to: [email protected]

Waterways team to the rescue

Waterways team to the rescue

November 29th, 2023 - Docklands News
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