“Don’t cut us off”: Alma Doepel’s plea against freight bridge
Historic Docklands tall ship the Alma Doepel is the latest stakeholder to add its voice to the growing chorus of concerns surrounding the Port of Melbourne’s proposed freight bridge across the Yarra River.
In a recent submission to the Fishermans Bend Planning Review Panel, Peter van Duyn, on behalf of Alma’s owner Sail & Adventure Ltd, issued a firm warning to the state government about the implications of a low freight link to the heritage fleet in Docklands.
The Port of Melbourne (PoM) has ramped up its advocacy for a freight link between its two disparate Webb and Swanson Docks having included the proposal in its 30-year 2050 Port Development Strategy.
The initiative has long been considered a “killer” for Docklands as it threatens to cut off bigger boats and activations from accessing Victoria Harbour, which are considered crucial to leveraging the waterways.
With a mast height of 28 metres, Mr van Duyn said the historic ship would be one such vessel cut off from Docklands if the freight bridge was to go ahead.
“[The freight bridge] would prevent Alma Doepel from entering and leaving Victoria Harbour,” he said.
“The height of the Bolte Bridge was, in fact, determined so as to allow Alma Doepel to pass underneath. The ship is planned to be restored and operational within three years and to be based in Victoria Harbour.”
“A number of other heritage sailing ships, which are based in Victoria Harbour have similar height limitations. The intention of the City of Melbourne is to have a heritage fleet based at Docklands, which will attract visitors and facilitate increased business activity in the precinct.”
Mr van Duyn told the panel that Melbourne was already restricted in allowing entry to many of the world’s great sailing ships “that cannot pass under the Bolte Bridge” and that smaller ships with “air-draft less than 28 metres work within Victoria Harbour and visit from interstate and overseas.”
“A lower clearance bridge would further restrict access to these vessels,” he said.
Alma Doepel restoration director Peter Harris reiterated these comments to Docklands News, saying a freight bridge represented a “showstopper”.
Mr Harris said despite suggestions that the bridge would be openable, long freight trains and warning times would lead to untenable congestion in the harbour, as well as an impact to residential amenity and properties values.
"Docklands is our only option for a home. Don’t alienate us,” he said.
In its 2021/22 budget, the City of Melbourne included a record $3.3 million investment into Docklands’ waterways infrastructure, $1.9 million of which was committed to replace the large vessels berth at Melbourne City Marina.
“This will allow ships to dock for public displays, which have in the past included Border Force and Sea Shepherd vessels, and Tall Ships Victoria,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said, following the release of the council’s budget in May last year.
A freight bridge, which Minister for Ports and Freight Melissa Horne told Docklands News in December was currently touted at 11 metres high, would prevent the types of ships and events the Lord Mayor mentioned from entering the harbour.
“A bridge is what’s in their [Port of Melbourne’s] plans at the moment, which I think is exciting, but again, that’s a little way off,” Minister Horne said.
Despite its record investment into Docklands’ waterways, the City of Melbourne declined the opportunity to provide comment to Docklands News this month when asked whether it would advocate against the freight link on behalf of the Docklands community.
While the Port of Melbourne continues to push for the freight bridge as part of its long-term vision, Docklands News understands that senior figures within the Department of Transport have dismissed the project’s viability.
In a statement to Docklands News, the Port of Melbourne said a freight connection to Webb Dock was “crucial to container trade” but that consultation with all stakeholders would form an “important part” of its process.
“A direct freight connection to Webb Dock is crucial to container trade – containers that bring goods to Australia to meet the demands of consumers and business. PoM is committed to playing its part in ensuring a strong Victorian economy by contributing to the state’s freight and trade needs well into the future.”
“PoM’s 2050 Port Development Strategy includes the proposed development of a Webb Dock freight link via a rail bridge adjacent to the Bolte Bridge. Identification of options is currently under way,” the statement read.
“We continue to plan, advocate and work with the Victorian Government to deliver the freight link in line with the Webb Dock International Container Terminal, which on current indicative timelines could be able to be delivered and operational from 2030-32 onwards.”
The Port of Melbourne didn’t respond directly to a question from Docklands News as to whether an immersed tunnel, as seen in other cities around the world, was being considered as an alternative to a bridge.
The statement said that plans for the freight link were in the “concept phase” and that “there are many factors to be considered, including developing a solution to cross the Yarra River efficiently, balancing the benefits and impacts across community, consumer and business needs.”
“Consultation with all stakeholders will be an important part of PoM’s process as we progress our planning for the port’s future rail freight needs. As the concept phase progresses, PoM will seek feedback from all interested parties, which will include the community. We encourage anyone with an interest in the Webb Dock Freight link to read our Port Development Strategy.” •