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Central Pier tenants to sue Development Victoria

01 Oct 2019

Central Pier tenants to sue Development Victoria Image

By Sean Car

Businesses say they have been left “bitterly disappointed” by Development Victoria’s (DV’s) decision to close Central Pier until 2020, and will now be pursuing legal action against their landlord.

DV announced on September 24 that the pier would remain closed until January after its engineers advised that it would take around 15 weeks to undertake a detailed assessment of the pier’s 1300 pylons.

Group Head, Precincts at DV Geoff Ward said businesses operating on the pier would not be able to return until this assessment, as well as load testing on top of the pier, had been completed.

“A decision about the future of the pier will only be made once a full assessment has been provided by the dive team and specialist marine engineers,” Mr Ward said.

“We know how much this affects people’s businesses, jobs and events but the safety of people working on and using the pier has to be our number one priority.”

A statement released soon after from the pier’s anchor tenant the Atlantic Group said that the company was “bitterly disappointed” and remained “frustrated” by the “lack of support and transparency displayed by Development Victoria.”

“The only information Development Victoria has provided us is to advise that an engineer’s report will be available with further assessment of the pier’s stability in mid-October,” the statement read.

“The safety of the 1300 staff who work on Central Pier remains our number one priority and we are still desperately seeking answers from Development Victoria as to the condition of the pier, including the impact of its rectification works from the last two years on Central Pier.”

“We are also still waiting for an explanation as to why Development Victoria won’t allow independent engineers on site to assess the safety of the pier.”

The statement was followed by another on behalf of all tenants of Central Pier on September 30, confirming that they would be imminently launching legal action against DV, which is understood to be around $100 million.

“Development Victoria’s failure to meet its obligation under the lease to maintain the pier has resulted in the closure of eight businesses and the reduction in foot traffic is now impacting other businesses within the Docklands,” the statement read.

“We are heading into the busiest event season of the year and Melbourne’s waterfront is out of action due to Development Victoria’s inability to manage Central Pier.”

“Despite all of our attempts to clarify the situation on behalf of the 1300 employees on Central Pier, Development Victoria is either unwilling or unable to provide the tenants with a straight answer as to how it allowed this to happen.”

A spokesperson for DV said in response: “A detailed assessment of Central Pier by our engineering consultants is underway on a priority basis. Development Victoria has acted in good faith and in accordance with the terms of the Central Pier lease. Any legal action will be defended.”

The city was left stunned on August 28 when the “rapidly deteriorating” pier was suddenly evacuated after a report from KBR engineers to DV deemed that it was unsafe for occupation.

DV originally told tenants that it would remain closed for one month while its specialist marine engineers determined the best way forward. To date, little to no detail about the state of pier or the scope of works required has been publicly released.

A letter from Development Victoria to Docklands News on September 26 informed us that a decision on our request for a copy of the report by KBR Engineers that led to the pier’s closure on August 28 had been extended until October 17.

“After considering your request, it has become apparent that consultation with third parties will be required to determine whether the documents sought are exempt from disclosure,” the letter stated.

The sudden closure of the 103-year-old pier led to many reports in the mainstream media that the decision might be potentially associated with plans to sell it off for private development; something Atlantic Group said it found “deeply concerning.”

“Reports that the site could be sold to developers are deeply concerning for everyone who works at Central Pier and the entire Docklands community,” the statement read.

“The tenants on Central Pier have invested tens of millions of dollars to create this iconic destination and we continue to be reassured by Development Victoria that no decision has been made on the future of the pier.”

In the meantime, DV said that it would “take some time” to do an assessment.

“It has not been possible to undertake load testing in the past, while the pier has been occupied,” a statement read.

“Since the pier closed, Development Victoria has been working with specialist marine engineers to confirm the extent of investigative work required and to permit restricted access to the pier.”

“The engineers have provided a protocol that enables divers and building contractors access to the pier and businesses to remove items. Access is currently limited to 20 people at a time and the removal of items weighing up to 70kg.”

The Docklands community continues to rally around the Atlantic Group and other tenants affected by the closure, who have been left “devastated” by the news. The Atlantic Group said that it had already relocated hundreds of functions to other local venues.

“Rest assured our team will continue to work alongside wedding, corporate and social clients to ensure all events through to the end of 2019 are relocated as quickly as possible with seamless interruption,” it stated.

“We have many venues that have agreed to let us cater within their spaces and we are focussed on working with those venues as a matter of priority to facilitate with relocations.”

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