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New manager has history

04 Oct 2018

New manager has history Image

By Shane Scanlan

It appears that Development Victoria’s new group head of precincts, Geoff Ward, just can’t stay away from Docklands.

The understated and quietly-spoken engineer puts it this way: “We’ve intersected a few times in my career.”

The longer version is that he oversaw the conceptualisation and construction of the stadium from the mid-1990s; worked in the Middle East for a period; came back as a Docklands development manager; broadened his role with the government’s development agency and, more recently, headed up the Fishermans Bend Taskforce for the state government.

His new position is within a new layer of management which appears to have been inserted between existing general managers and the CEO of Development Victoria. DV’s general manager of precincts, Simon Wilson, is still in his role.

Having seen Docklands’ maturation on-and-off for more than 20 years, Mr Ward is well positioned to lead the final few years until completion. And he’s seen plenty of changes.

“It’s quite interesting because, in one sense, it’s quite familiar to me but, in another sense, it’s a lot busier than I remember,” he said. “There’s a lot more hustle and bustle – particularly at street level, which is pretty exciting.”

“And there’s a lot more towers that have gone up. But it’s still, in a way, quite familiar. I’ve spent a lot of time in this area, so there’s a lot of little corners that I know.”

Mr Ward acknowledges Docklands’ poor public perception in times gone by, but, like most locals, doesn’t understand it.

“I’ve always been a bit puzzled by some of that public perception. People like you and I and all the people who live here – we do it because we choose to,” he said.

He said the real story was that Docklands had outperformed what was originally asked of it.

“I think it’s certainly exceeded everybody’s expectations, in terms of what everyone thought could be possible down here,” he said. “In terms of buildings, but also in terms of public amenity, I think we’ve exceeded all of those.”

Having been part of John Tabart’s original Docklands Authority team, he has deep insight into how the suburb came about.

“I think the original formula was obviously pretty right. The market has embraced it. The residents have embraced it. The workers have embraced it and they want more, more, more,” he said.

“It was always designed to be an extension of the city and it’s getting much closer to that.”

So, what so good about it?

“I think the fact that it’s mixed use and that it’s tried to strike that balance between being big and corporate but also responsive to the community,” he said. “So there’s that blend between community open spaces, but also recognising that you’ve got to have those big commercials to make it all pay for itself. And, the waterfront. That’s unique to the place.”

Speaking of waterfront, and coming from the Fishermans Bend Taskforce, Mr Ward has a unique perspective on the bridges that threaten our waterways.

Three bridges were proposed in the draft Fishermans Bend framework document – and the recommendations of a planning panel appointed to adjudicate on them are yet to be released.

A Docklands community-led alternative proposal, in the form of an immersed tube, carries the hopes of our suburb for a potential future without maritime activity.

“I was at the planning panel a couple of months ago when Keith Sutherland presented the immersed tube concept. I think the idea has certainly got merit and I think it needs to be seriously considered,” Mr Ward said.

“It’s one of those ideas that needs to be weighed up with all the others because there are some significant advantages in doing it. It just needs to be weighed up with the other options of going above ground.”

Mr Ward said it was not too late for the government to consider the immersed tube, which conceptually would replace all three bridges proposed in the framework document.

“No [it’s not too late], because what Transport Victoria said at the panel was that, whilst they have a preferred route, they’ve got to go back and review that and look at the detail and that’s got to be one of the options. I don’t think anything’s locked in there,” he said.

But all this is not to say that Mr Ward is not a “bridge man”.

“Putting in bridges is an important part of joining up the precinct but you’ve got to do it in a way that recognises the fact that the water is part of the asset of what you’re dealing with,” he said.

“People come here because of the water and because of the activity on the water so, if you’re going to do the bridges, you’ve got to find a way for it all to work together.”

So it is possible to have bridges as well as open waterways?

“Is it possible? Probably,” he said. “There’s always a technical solution.”

Mr Ward said he had two priorities for Docklands – getting the primary school underway and, more importantly, finally bringing Harbour Esplanade into its potential as the suburb’s centrepiece.

“The government has announced the school. So I’m really keen to see some action on the site. I’m very keen to work with the Education Department to start getting some traction on that,” Mr Ward said.

“They’ve got some money and they’ve got the land. So they can start. So I’m just really keen to see that they do – and they do so as quickly as practicable.”

“The bigger thing for me will be starting to unlock the whole Harbour Esplanade, Central Pier – the whole waterfront.”

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