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Enjoying the new decade

Retiring VicUrban Board member reflects on Docklands’ first decade

30 Jun 2010

Retiring VicUrban Board member reflects on Docklands’ first decade Image

After a decade on the VicUrban Board, the chair of the Docklands Co-ordination Committee, Gabrielle Trainor announced her retirement at the most recent DCC meeting on June 10.  Docklands News editor Shane Scanlan took the opportunity to email her some questions to which she graciously responded.  She has subsequently said she may, in fact, stay on the board for a little longer but, at the time the paper went to press, this was unclear.

Comment: While I came into this only relatively recently, I have the impression that visionaries with a talent for cutting through and getting things done started the Docklands story rolling.  I look around now and wonder where the vision and leadership is.  I see cautious career bureaucrats assuming the reins and despair about what sort of Docklands we are going to
end up with.

Question: You were there at the beginning. How does 2010 compare with 2000?

Response: I agree that visionaries with a talent for cutting through and getting things done have got Docklands to where it is today and it’s those kinds of people who will continue to do so. Mark Birrell and Jeff Kennett were among the first who worked to get Docklands on the agenda and the Bracks/Brumby government has followed suit. The funding of the Collins St bridge, for example, was a watershed in attracting massive commercial development. Mirvac and MAB were two of the leading companies to make the initial leap of faith in residential. There are plenty of others who worked and dreamed the dream until Docklands actually happened.  It’s a different kind of vision nowadays to create the second decade of development – to build on the spirit and to better engage the community as the population in Docklands grows, to provide more and better community infrastructure, to use a lot of recently-acquired knowledge on things like environmental sustainability, to refine, to improve and in doing so to
build on the strength of the community – resident and business – that now calls Docklands home.  

Comment: I can only imagine that the merging of the Docklands Authority into the wider-based VicUrban diluted focus away from Docklands.  And I believe I witnessed a further dilution of Docklands’ importance with the fairly recent VicUrban restructure which resulted in general managers having “portfolio” responsibility (as opposed to geographic).

Question: Am I right in thinking that Docklands is being left to fend for itself (because it is no longer a child and is, therefore, less lovable/politically-rewarding)?
Response: I couldn’t agree with that. Even since the merger with the URLC and even the management change you refer to, Docklands has remained a major focus for the State Government, for VicUrban and over the past nearly three years also for the City of Melbourne. It is right in the middle of the radar screen and in my view is even more visible than years ago because it has a very engaged community and some very big businesses, including those making up a significant financial services hub, who are all keen to play a part in the future decisions.  This is not to mention the role of Docklands News!  

Comment: The passing back of municipal functions to the City of Melbourne nearly three years ago and the attempts to work co-operatively with the council seems to have had a paralysing effect on Docklands.  Adding this level of complexity seems to have confused both the council and VicUrban and resulted in a situation where no-one is prepared to make a decision in case their jurisdiction is challenged.  You are probably too far removed from the operational level to see this.  But take the example of Urban Reforestation (from tonight’s meeting), where these guys, firstly, don’t know who to approach and, secondly, don’t get a response when
they do make contact with both the council and VicUrban.

Question: How can this unsatisfactory situation be resolved?

Response: I can understand people mightn’t know whether to talk to VicUrban or the City of Melbourne on a given issue. Though the roles are clear to us and it is a very good working partnership, it can be confusing for the community and I think we can improve the way we communicate and engage. The “Second Decade of Docklands” consultation, due to start soon, is the perfect way for us to do that. It’s going to provide a real opportunity for us to reach out widely and for everyone to contribute. That should help people know where to go and who to talk to.

Comment: Being a resident in Docklands is to accept a situation where you have absolutely no say in planning issues.  This is becoming the norm in other places too as the state calls in projects.  But we have institutionalised disenfranchisement.  I was in China last year and wondered whether the population there had more input into how their neighbourhoods were shaped.  I understand that developer agreements which date back to the last century are driving this, but the situation is unsustainable.  I’m not sure if you have been following the Serrata case.  In essence, Lend Lease notified Mosaic and Montage owners that they intended to build a 15-storey building next door by offering a sales opportunity.  The deal had been worked out in private between VicUrban, the developer and (I assume) the council.

Question: Can you see why people would not like to live in Docklands while this regime continues?  And what can be done about it?

Response: Developers have invested in Docklands on the basis of the approved development plans for the area. The process is that development plans are prepared with input from the City of Melbourne and the Department of Planning and Community Development, in accordance with the Melbourne Planning Scheme. With a fast-growing community of nearly 7000 people in Docklands and about 20,000 who come each day to work there, we recognise the need for more and deeper engagement. The “Second Decade of Docklands” process will give the community information about future developments and give lots of opportunities for people to give their views on how Docklands develops into the future. As for living in Docklands, I think it’s evident people who live here love it!

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