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Jeff says Docklands wasn’t his idea

31 Jul 2012

Jeff says Docklands wasn’t his idea Image

Jeff Kennett is often credited with kick-starting Docklands in the 1990s, but the former Victorian premier shies away from the tag.

He says credit for the idea rightfully goes to his former major projects minister Mark Birrell.

“It was Mark Birrell who first pointed out to me that we were the only major city in the world that didn’t use its water,” Mr Kennett told Docklands News.

“He suggested we turn the face of Melbourne to the water,” he said. “Every city in the world used its water, but we didn’t.”

Mr Kennett further said that the Docklands project had nothing to do with the fact that the state was virtually broke. He said the idea was not about stimulating the economy.

“It was all about adding value.  I mean you had a whole area that was ignored, disused.  So we decided to do something about it.”

“So what do I think of it?  Well it’s still a work in progress.  We always said it would take 30 years before it was finished and we’re probably now into it about 10 years.”

“With hindsight, you would have done some things differently.  But hindsight is a wonderful thing.”

Mr Kennett said it had been suggested early in the process that Docklands have an overall architectural design.  But he said the idea was rejected.

“We rejected that because we thought it might give too much control to the people doing the design,” he said.

However, now he says it should have been done that way, as it would have improved Docklands.

“I think I would have had a co-ordinated design for the whole development.  For example, in one area it could have been two to three storeys, over here it’s just one, you can build up to this height in another place and then allow people to buy bits of land and develop it, but actually have the architectural concept all in place,” he said.

But would the developers have gone with that?

“I am absolutely sure the developers would have accepted this because they would still have had access to the profits they were going to make from what they put there, but they would have had to conform to an overall design,” he said.

“If this had happened, when you come over the Bolte Bridge, instead of seeing the designs that we’ve got, you would have said: ‘Hey, look at that!’  It could have taken your breath away.  I don’t think it takes your breath away.”

“What happens, is that your eye tends to run over Docklands into the city and that’s the view that takes your breath away.”

Mr Kennett said it was decided to carve Docklands into precincts as it was felt at the time that this would achieve a better outcome.

“It was carved up because I thought that was the best way to get things up and running,” he said.  “We had a lot of problems with contamination and everything else and we had to provide a lot of incentives to get people to do it.”

“We wanted them to use their creativity and design something that is special and mostly they have risen to the challenge.  There are a few buildings there that are pretty bland but, in the main, there are some pretty creative buildings.”

“But I don’t think we’re going to be able to pass judgement in real terms until the whole thing’s finished.”

He said he had very little time for people who criticised Docklands.

“It’s not a failure.  It’s a wonderful regeneration of abandoned land,” he said. “But the question is could you have done better and the answer is, of course, you could always do better with everything you do in life.”

“There are aspects of it which are clearly wonderful.  I like some of the architecture. I like the way the ANZ has developed a six-star building and has led the way in terms of innovation.”

“When the thing is completed and you have the population and you have all the things that go with people, it’s going to be a very exciting place to live.  The reality is that it is so close to the CBD.  It’s actually saved the CBD because the CBD itself was dying.”

“Now with Docklands and what’s happening at Fisherman’s Bend, that’s going to be a hugely active area.”

“So it’s going to have the vitality, the life and movement but you won’t have it all until the whole thing’s built.”

Interestingly, Mr Kennett approached Lend Lease this year and suggested an Aboriginal theme would suit the end of North Wharf Rd where the former Port of Melbourne control tower stands.

“I had always hoped that at the end of the finger coming out there would have been an amphitheatre built which would be seen looking out towards the bridge for Aboriginal demonstration, performances and everything else,” he said.

“I always hoped that we could have had a massive flagpole with an Aboriginal flag and a destination that was a demonstration of dance, eating, craft and other indigenous works.”

“It hasn’t happened, but you can’t have everything,” he said.

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