Docklands projects pinpointed to reactivate city
By David Schout
The reconstruction of Central Pier, urban renewal of E-Gate and the delivery of a tram link to Fishermans Bend have all been nominated as “priority infrastructure projects” when the city re-emerges from COVID-19.
The projects were among 12 “city-shaping opportunities” requiring state and federal investment according to the City of Melbourne in its recently released Reactivation and Recovery Plan.
The plan was shaped, in part, by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) research that indicated inner Melbourne had suffered the worst economic hit from COVID-19 within Australia as a result of restrictions.
The local economy was set to suffer a $110 billion hit in the next five years compared with pre-pandemic projections, and see 15 per cent of jobs lost by the end of 2020.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp said Melbourne was an “economic powerhouse of Australia”, and steps taken in the coming months could prove crucial.
“We know that Melbourne is the engine room of our state economy and plays a major role in our national economy. The national recovery is dependent on how we bring life back to our city,” she said at a September 15 Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting.
The report noted 12 “priority infrastructure projects” post-lockdown, of which was the reconstruction of Central Pier was one.
It stated that the pier was crucial to activating Docklands and in particular Victoria Harbour.
“In light of the closure of Central Pier, [the council will] work with Development Victoria to identify specific initiatives that will increase visitation to Victoria Harbour and disbursement throughout Docklands hospitality and retail offerings,” it pledged.
In August last year the pier was shut within an hour of being deemed unsafe by engineers engaged by Development Victoria.
The Reactivation and Recovery Plan also listed a tram link to Fishermans Bend as a “priority” post-COVID.
“This connection is critical to unlocking the potential of Fishermans Bend as current public transport connections do not meet minimum standards of access.”
The report noted that, going forward, a medium-density development at E-Gate that connected West Melbourne and Docklands was crucial, while also calling on investment in revitalising the North Bank of the Yarra River.
“These city-shaping opportunities cannot be delivered by the City of Melbourne alone. We need alignment and significant support and commitment from the Victorian and Australian Governments to see these come to life,” the report said.
The PwC report declared that while inner Melbourne accounted for around a quarter of the state’s economy, it was set to represent more than half of the state’s losses due the impacts of COVID-19.
As a result, councillors united in declaring the economic impact a “businesses and jobs emergency” under a motion introduced by Cr Philip Le Liu on September 15, calling on the state government to waive, rather than defer, upcoming payroll tax and expand eligibility for sole trader support.
It also called on the federal government to include higher education sector workers within JobKeeper, and a permanent increase to Newstart when JobSeeker expired.
“[There is] a disproportionate impact of the pandemic on our city economy and we do need a proportionate response from federal and state governments. Other levels of government have more resources than we do, and that is why we must keep calling on [them] to work with us,” the Lord Mayor said.
The strategy also targeted the city’s struggling retail sector with a “ShopKeeper” plan, which aimed to assist new retail ventures, community services and social enterprises.
Under the plan, the council would work with owners, landlords, banks and retail associations to ensure empty shops did not remain vacant post-pandemic, and even pledged to consider taking out tenancies itself.
In September the City of Melbourne and the state government announced a joint $100 million “City Recovery Fund” which could see the city’s iconic bar and restaurant scene hit the streets.
Modelled on New York’s “Open Restaurants” initiative, the plan will move tables and chairs onto footpaths and even roads as a way to work around strict indoor dining health rules.
Planning chair Cr Nicholas Reece said that while facts and figures currently portrayed a grim reality for Melbourne, the city would bounce back.
“I would stress that Melbourne has seen bad times before, we all know that,” he said. “We’ve come back every time we’ve been down before and we absolutely will come back again. I think with this plan the city has a fantastic framework to take it forward.” •