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The signs are ominous

11 Feb 2014

Comment by Shane Scanlan

There are many symbols demonstrating the parlous state of Harbour Esplanade and the sad fact that it won’t be fixed any time soon.

Hortus, the glasshouse that is now covered by a tent, tells a story of impracticality, delay and unfulfilled promise.  

Next to it, the up-again-down-again solid hoardings around the wharf areas to be demolished adjacent to Central Pier are an even greater symbol of dysfunction.

The fence was erected twice – once to the edge of Places Victoria’s jurisdiction and six months later onto the area controlled by the City of Melbourne.

But perhaps the greatest symbol demonstrating the difficulties we face is a press conference held on Harbour Esplanade last December by Planning Minister Matthew Guy and Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.

It is well known that politicians like to pump themselves up.  And they are pretty good at presenting an almost-empty glass as brimming over.

But to claim that the demolition of the condemned sections of wharf was the beginning of something wonderful was breathtaking in its audacity.

The wharves were a public danger and had already been fenced off to prevent anyone falling through them.  The demolition should have been done years ago.

The Minister and Lord Mayor should have been embarrassed that the wharf areas had been allowed to deteriorate to this point.

But, without announcing any funding beyond the demolition, the pair claimed the moment was the “start of the rejuvenation of Harbour Esplanade.”

In reality, it has been more than five years since the re-development of Harbour Esplanade was announced with fanfare.  

Since then, the authorities have only managed to move the tram tracks (the fences were not the only aspect of Harbour Esplanade to be done twice!).

The Guy/Doyle press conference was an ominous symbol.  If this was the best news they could muster, how bad must the state’s commitment to infrastructure be?

Any thoughts about a grand plan for Harbour Esplanade must be tempered against this background of economic austerity.

And, again, Docklands finds itself over-governed to the point of paralysis.  You have to wonder how far advanced Docklands would have been without “power-sharing” between Places Victoria and the City of Melbourne that started in 2007 and continues today.

If Harbour Esplanade had been the sole responsibility of either party, would we be in the same state of inactivity today?

We understand that Places Victoria and the council have been talking among themselves for years about the future of Harbour Esplanade.

The community has been expecting a round of consultations on a visionary master plan.  

We believe that another master plan was actually prepared during 2012 but that 2013 was spent scaling back ambition and lowering expectation.

Consultation has been promised in coming months.

The community should prepare itself to be underwhelmed.

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