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New vibe blowing on waterways

29 Nov 2011

New vibe blowing on waterways Image

By Shane Scanlan

Docklands waterways are going through a policy renaissance and the optimism in boating circles is palpable.

Government departments and instrumentalities have been mouthing platitudes for years about how important the waterways were to Docklands’ future.  They even agreed that the water underpinned the very essence of the place.

But due to a multi-jurisdictional web of bureaucratic control and indifferent and obstructionist officers, the reality was vastly different for the private operators who have been attempting to make a living while “activating” the water.

Some have left Melbourne and most would have loved to be a position where they could sell out and do something else.

The operators have still massive problems upstream where Parks Victoria sees them as cash cows to be milked to extinction and beyond, but in Docklands the mood is becoming buoyant and upbeat.

The fresh new vibe that is filling their sails and putting pep into their step is the new City of Melbourne waterways chief Doug Jarvis.

“Have you met Doug Jarvis yet,” one crusty salt said a couple of months ago. “You’ve got to go and talk to him.  He’s the best thing that’s happened around here in years.”

You see, unlike anyone who has preceded him, Mr Jarvis is one of them.  He’s an old sea dog who’s done just about everything there is to do with boats.  And he’s also a business man with an impressive and expansive CV filled with sales, marketing and business development roles.

He has sailed two-handed to Osaka and is a coxswain with qualifications to navigate Port Phillip Heads.

And, mostly importantly, he has a track record of actually achieving outcomes – having run for years Australia’s largest sailing event, the Geelong Week yachting regatta (which was mostly known as Skandia and later Audi Week).

So what’s he doing in this job?

“I’m guided by the best and I’m very fortunate to work in City Design – Rob Adams’ team. He’s a visionary,” Mr Jarvis said.

“He’s the sort of guy who just wants to get things done and I think he would be the first person to say strategy is fine, but let’s get things happening.”

Mr Jarvis likens his role to that of a navigator.  He said you simply can’t make good decisions unless you have the best information.

“I’m not the decision maker, my job is to gather the intelligence,” he said.

He is passionate about implementing a commuter ferry services between Federation Square and Waterfront City.  And unlike many others, he doesn’t see the current 5-knot speed limit on the river as an impediment.

He thinks the speed limit needs to stay – primarily to ensure passenger safety when passing under the many low bridges.

“The river is such a beautiful place, why would you want to go that fast?” he asked. “Certainly beyond the Charles Grimes Bridge, that’s a different situation.”

In an ideal world, Mr Jarvis sees a fleet of purpose-built vessels, owned by a public-private partnership, operating year-round to a timetable running frequently enough so that passengers could see a ferry arriving.

He said the ferry would form a major part of a tourism loop which would deliver passengers from the city via tram and return them via the water.

He said the last time such a project was attempted was five to seven years ago, but Docklands was at a more developed stage now and could host a viable service.

“Development curve has now got to a point where this is sustainable,” he said.

But Mr Jarvis said the day-to-day operational aspects of his job were just as important for him to concentrate on.

“The best thing we can do is to put forward ideas that can benefit the community.  That’s our role – things like ferries and having good strategies for recreational fishing, for water-based events or heritage restorations like the Alma Doepel.  They all form part of the complete picture.”

“One of the aspects of my job is to make sure we do all the things that we need to do so we can attract more vessels – both recreational and commercial,” he said.

“We need to nourish the industry and find out why we haven’t used the river as well as we could.  If you look at busier cities in the world and traffic density, there’s no question that we can’t manage the issues.”

“Whatever we do it’s all aimed at the same thing – sustainability and prosperity.”

“We need to make best use of that finite resource (the water).  We might as well concrete it over if we are not going to use it.  It’s a very valuable piece of real estate and it’s a part of Melbourne that people are yet to discover.”

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