Funding for waterways, but charter boats aren’t happy

Funding for waterways, but charter boats aren’t happy
Sean Car

A $3.3 million investment into Docklands’ waterways by the City of Melbourne as part of its recent council budget has only fuelled further anger from charter boat operators over being pushed out of Victoria Harbour.

As part of its budget announced on May 25, the council said it would invest more than $3.3 million into projects that activated and enhanced Docklands’ waterways, which included $1.9 million to replace the large vessels berth at Melbourne City Marina.

“This will allow ships to dock for public displays, which have in the past included Border Force and Sea Shepherd vessels, and Tall Ships Victoria,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said.

The Lord Mayor said the infrastructure would help realise the potential of the Docklands waterfront for residents, businesses and visitors by creating more recreational opportunities in the Victoria Harbour precinct.

“We want to increase opportunities for boating, fishing and kayaking in Docklands and make better use of the magnificent Victoria Harbour and the Yarra-Birrarung,” Cr Capp said.

“For too long our city has turned its back on its waterways but this investment is an important early step to bringing these areas to life.”

But while the funding for waterways is welcome news for Docklands, commercial boat operators have slammed plans to make Australia Wharf the home of Docklands’ charter boat fleet.

The Lord Mayor said the council would invest $864,200 towards the two-year $1.3 million project as part of its 2021-22 budget.

“Charter boat operators are passionate and professional companies that can cater to around 950,000 passengers a year. Investing in these facilities creates jobs during construction but also provides ongoing opportunities for local businesses,” the Lord Mayor said.

“We want to protect residential peace and amenity while maximising water transport, tourism and the maritime heritage of Docklands.”

But Melbourne Passenger Boating Association (MPBA) president Jeff Gordon said commercial operators, as well as local residents living along Australia Wharf, had long been against the move.

In January, Development Victoria put a tender out for a new hub for ferry and boat operators in Victoria Harbour at Wharf 8, which is currently home to the Port Phillip Ferries glasshouse and Cow Up A Tree sculpture.

The closure of Central Pier in 2019, berthing for passenger boats has become scarce and Mr Gordon told Docklands News that operators had long pushed their case to remain in Victoria Harbour at Harbour Esplanade, but had been “squeezed out” for private interests.

“We have consistently held the view that the plan to make our home berths at Australia Wharf in the Yarra, only five metres in front of proposed residential towers, is a recipe for disaster,” he said.

“Other than a poor outcome for the apartment owners, the depth of water in front of the proposed Australia Wharf is considered too shallow and the contaminated mud will need constant dredging.”

“The MPBA believes the only proper home berth for the larger vessels is in front of Marvel Stadium, away from residential towers and close to public transport.”

“Currently, despite putting our own plan forward, for berthing on Harbour Esplanade, only one option is being considered, with one ferry operator being asked to put his plans to Development Victoria, excluding the passenger boats of Melbourne.”

“It seems if you have the money and government connections you can get an annual government subsidy to run ferries as well as get your choice of berthing in this prime location.”

Mr Gordan said operators were also limping along on month-to-month licenses, adding to the uncertainty for their businesses during COVID-19.

“If the City of Melbourne truly wanted to support the passenger boats of Melbourne, and save money in the process, they should offer leased berths on Harbour Esplanade close to amenities that suit our business model and where we can be seen, and not push us out of Victoria Harbour, which has been our home for more than 20 years,” he said.

Australia Wharf was previously owned by Development Victoria, which after some remedial repairs at nearby Collins Landing late last year, transferred the asset to the City of Melbourne.

Noise, litter, disruption and loss of property value are among some issues raised by local residents living at the wharf in response to the proposed charter boat hub near their homes.

“There’s nothing in it for the residents,” resident Bill Modos told Docklands News.

The council’s $3.3 million funding for waterways also includes $165,000 for lockable storage for kayaks and fishing equipment at Victoria Harbour, as well as $300,000 towards a marine operations precinct in the Bolte West Precinct.

The Bolte West site owned by Development Victoria has long been touted for proposed maritime and community facilities and was nominated by the council in April for heritage protection as part of its Fishermans Bend Heritage Review.

The council said its funding contribution towards the marine operations precinct would help create a staging area for water events, create a launching area for small yachts and barges for the clean ups of spills.

A further $166,000 will be invested in general maintenance of the council’s waterways infrastructure •

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