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No joy for esplanade

11 Feb 2014

No joy for esplanade Image

By Shane Scanlan and Bethany Williams

Harbour Esplanade could remain a festering sore for decades as the State Government and the City of Melbourne admit they have no intention of completing the project in a hurry.

Although widely acknowledged as the key to the precinct’s ultimate success, the five-hectare headache has been confined to the too-hard basket for nearly 10 years without any definitive solution in sight.

More than six years after the first power-sharing arrangement between the council and Places Victoria, the parties are still to agree on a plan for the area.

Places Victoria seems determined to avoid committing to a detailed plan because it has no money to pay for it.

And the City of Melbourne appears to be hell-bent on a singular mission to restore heritage sheds to the Esplanade, no matter what direction a future master plan may take.

In 2008, Places Victoria revealed and consulted widely on its “Melbourne’s Verandah” master plan which it quickly shelved when it realised it had no money to pay for it.

The urban renewal authority is currently caught between a fundamental requirement to master-plan the area and its political desire to avoid raising a public expectation that something might actually happen.

In its most recent statement, Places Victoria said: “The development of Harbour Esplanade is a long-term project that will be staged over the next 10 -15 years, subject to available funding.”

It says it is working towards a master plan, but warns the community not to expect a “Verandah”-style consultation saying it is “working towards releasing concept plans for the staged development of the waterfront within a few months”.

Places Victoria Docklands manager Simon Wilson said consultation would only be sought on “further input about things like the amount of built form proposed and how Melburnians want to use public spaces on the waterfront.”

A City of Melbourne spokesperson said:  “While the council may put funding into the reinstatement of the heritage sheds, the wider project of completion of Harbour Esplanade is a State Government project.”

Digital Harbour developer David Napier suspects that Places Victoria and the council have developed and scrapped a second master plan for Harbour Esplanade.

He said he was led to believe that a master plan would be released a year ago but nothing happened.

“Not only do we not have a plan, but we’ve got holes in the ground,” Mr Napier said of the wharf rectification work currently happening on Harbour Esplanade.

Mr Napier said $300 million of funding had been committed to Docklands as part of the Docklands Community and Place Plan and that some of this funding should be brought forward to get the job done.

“At least they will create the waterfront that will attract the community that will make Docklands work,” Mr Napier said.

Despite no funding to complete the job, it’s clear plenty of money has been spent on developing masterplans for the esplanade.

BKK Architects was charged with developing the 2008 “Verandah” concept and Docklands News has established the firm also worked on at least one other Harbour Esplanade masterplan.

BKK Architects co-founder Tim Black said his firm had worked on another Harbour Esplanade masterplan around two or three years ago.

This masterplan was a broader concept, which positioned Harbour Esplanade as the centre-piece of a plan stretching from the Yarra River to the Maribyrnong River.

He said the plan was shelved after it was caught up in “the change of government, changes in Places Victoria and changes in the funding environment”.

Last December the Planning Minister Matthew Guy and Lord Mayor Robert Doyle staged a press conference on Harbour Esplanade to announce $16 million to demolish wharf areas, which had been condemned.

Although committing to consult on a future master plan, neither party has committed any money to complete the project.

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