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An open letter to Robert Moore

05 Jun 2014

An open letter to Robert Moore Image

Manager | Urban Design and Docklands Branch | City of Melbourne

Re:  Harbour Esplanade Waterfront Redevelopment

Dear Mr Moore,

I live in the Life.lab building overlooking Harbour Esplanade and Victoria Harbour.  I am also a director of Digital Harbour. I work in Docklands and have been involved here since 1999.

Docklands Stadium opened on March 9, 2000.  Harbour Esplanade had been established but not completed to the masterplan designed by ARM.  Trams ran along the waterfront amongst pedestrians, cyclists and skateboarders on a concrete deck sandwiched between the elevated docks and the new Harbour Esplanade.  

Contributions to infrastructure by Docklands developers were not flowing through to the necessary upgrade of the dilapidated waterfront.  Thousands of visitors to the new stadium and tourists were discouraged from crossing Harbour Esplanade.  Access to the unattractive waterfront was difficult.  

Fast forward to 2014 and little has changed.  Harbour Esplanade has been reconstructed replacing  earlier works with an alternative more expensive development, this time with trams down the centre of the road.  A bicycle track along the waterfront and inappropriate Norfolk pines Re:  Harbour Esplanade Waterfront Redevelopment have replaced an otherwise similar functioning roadway.

In 2000 Docklands had a forecast completion of 2020, now extended to 2025.  Changing market conditions have been largely responsible for this extended time-frame.  Much has been achieved.  But leadership and investment in redevelopment of the waterfront have not been forthcoming from the State Government, City of Melbourne or development authority.  

The waterfront is still a disaster.  Crumbling docks are being demolished with no firm or agreed masterplan for redevelopment, no funding, and suggestions that redevelopment of the waterfront will be undertaken in six stages over the next 10 years.  This may mean that build-out of Docklands could occur before the waterfront is completed!  

Successful reclamation projects around the world invariably commence with a publicly-funded focal point that stimulates private sector development.  This could have happened in Docklands had the Government funded development of the waterfront upgrade beside the privately-funded stadium.  The resultant negative perception of Docklands has festered since 2000.

The City of Melbourne has committed to injecting $300 million into Docklands infrastructure over 30 years.  At $10 million per year this does little to address the need for an immediate one-stage upgrade of the waterfront.  I challenge the city to bring forward several years of committed funds and upgrade Melbourne’s front porch to the waterfront.  

A complete upgrade would attract more visitors and tourists, encourage more rapid development and increase residents and major commercial tenants in Docklands whilst paying back sooner  (through accelerated rates and taxes) this significant investment by the city.

The Herald Sun on Tuesday, May 20 quoted Roger Gardner, President of the Docklands Community Association, as saying residents of Docklands don’t want heritage goods sheds reinstated along the waterfront, blocking the water views.  What is desperately needed at this end of Docklands is publically accessible “GREEN” space.  

We need grass and trees, passive seating and walking space, pop-up cafes and relocatable markets.  We need attractive and comfortable space for people to enjoy, have a barbecue, play with their children and just relax.  We need Melbourne’s equivalent to the New York High Line or Sydney’s proposed Goods Line.  After all, a large part of the new deck replacing the docks will still be elevated over the water.

This linear space connecting NewQuay to Victoria Harbour, sandwiched between Harbour Esplanade and the waterfront, is similar to the High Line.  It connects a number of major activity nodes: from NewQuay promenade to LaTrobe St and Digital Harbour, to Central Pier, AFL House and the stadium, to Victoria Harbour Promenade, Bourke St and beyond.

This project demands a landscape solution that provides the desperately-needed green open space that pulls locals, tourists and Docklands visitors to the waterfront.  A place that attracts people and where people can wander, relax and socialise.  It does not need more buildings.

I welcome the opportunity to meet with you and council officers and councillors to discuss accelerating this project.

David Napier

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