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Greenline to “transform” Melbourne and Docklands

David Schout

A four-kilometre green trail along the Yarra would represent Melbourne’s “biggest transformation” since the opening of Federation Square in 2002, according to Lord Mayor Sally Capp. So how will it improve Docklands?

The $300 million “Greenline” project, a key election pledge from Cr Capp, would see a pathway established along the river’s Northbank from Birrarung Marr all the way to the Bolte Bridge.

Half of the project (the two-kilometre Northbank stretch from Spencer St to the Bolte) will be in Docklands.

City of Melbourne councillors unanimously endorsed draft plans for the project on May 4.

Plans revealed a vision to better connect pedestrians and cyclists between a series of new parks, boardwalks and pedestrian bridges

It also sought to celebrate the river’s historical importance to Aboriginal culture and improve its overall health.

Cr Capp told Docklands News that the project represented the city’s biggest transformation completion of Southbank Promenade in 1990 and the opening of Federation Square in 2002.

“Greenline will transform the Northbank from drab to a destination in its own right,” the Lord Mayor said. 

“For generations our city has turned its back to the river and this project will transform how Melburnians move around and interact with the waterfront.”

There was no timeline yet for the project, however the draft implementation schedule indicates work would continue until 2028. The council also committed $1 million towards project designs in its 2021-22 budget, announced on May 25.

Cr Capp made Greenline a key part of her 2018 by-election and 2020 general election strategy, winning on both occasions.

Greens Cr Rohan Leppert, who contested the 2018 by-election, said Cr Capp’s results indicated public support for the project.

“That [2018] election was won on Greenline. A second election has been won on Greenline – there is no denying that there is an overwhelming political mandate for this project,” he said at the May 4 Future Melbourne Committee meeting.

“This is an exciting project, it is a genuinely transformational project whether you look at the economic uplift opportunities alone, the job impacts, or the international or interstate tourism drawcard that a Greenline will create.”

“Maritime” and “Salt Water Wharf”

The four-kilometre trail is set to feature five key precincts, each separated on the basis of land management, activity and character attributes.

The two Docklands precincts were called “Maritime” (between Spencer Street and Webb Bridge) and “Salt Water Wharf” (between Webb Bridge and the western end of Victoria Harbour).

The remaining three were called River Park, Yarro Yarro and Birrarung Marr.

The Maritime precinct was set to feature improvement to the World Trade Centre waterfront, streetscape upgrades for Siddeley St, new open space at Seafarers Rest Park, and improved pedestrian and cyclist crossing across Navigation Drive from Jim Stynes Bridge towards Harbour Esplanade (Capital City Trail).

In an email to members, Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network (MMHN) chair and former councillor Jackie Watts said while it offered “in principle support” for Greenline, it could do more.

“Although it recognises the existence of maritime heritage along the Yarra, it does not go nearly far enough in acknowledging the irrefutable historical evidence that there was maritime trade activity trade along both sides of the river and estuary,” she said.

The second precinct, “Salt Water Wharf”, would look to provide a new pedestrian and recreational cyclist promenade at Collins Wharf, improve the existing experience at Australian Wharf, and provide a new public “eco park” at the western end of Victoria Harbour “as part of future private development”.

Draft plans indicated the council would seek private investment for Salt Water Wharf precinct.

Cr Capp indicated this would be a key aspect of the project.

“Greenline will cost around $300 million to deliver and it will take several years to complete. I will be wearing out the carpet and knocking on doors on Spring St and in Canberra to secure investment from state and federal governments. Investment from the private sector will also be sought.”

The plans also noted that, while detailed planning of the four other precincts could commence, Salt Water Wharf would “require further stakeholder engagement with Development Victoria in relation to future development timings”.

Northbank an “underwhelming experience”

The draft plans revealed a scathing assessment of Northbank’s current condition.

Despite possessing a “rich history and distinctive features”, it was described as of “poor quality”, “lacking activity”, “prone to safety and security issues”, and was an “overall underwhelming experience”.

In a win for community-led group Yarra Pools, as part of the Greenline project the council also resolved to explore the feasibility of a large pool facility at Enterprize Park, near the Docklands/CBD border.

Group president Felicity Watson said the decision was “justification” for years of hard work, and vindication that the proposal was a credible one.

“We believe, after much discussion, believe that it is an appropriate time to formally assess that proposal,” Cr Capp confirmed.

“Many fingers in the pie”

The fragmentation of controlling authorities along the river meant the project would need to jump through a significant number of hoops before it gets off the ground.

The City of Melbourne does not own or independently manage the waterways or banks of the Yarra River (now referred to by the council as “Yarra River Birrarung” in a nod to its traditional name). Key stakeholders included the state government, Development Victoria, Parks Victoria, VicTrack, Melbourne Water and other landowners.

Yarra River Business Association (YRBA) executive officer Tim Bracher told Docklands News collaboration could make or break the project.

“The key to its success will be for state government to take co-ownership of the plan and to overcome the silo effect created by the many government departments involved in the current jurisdiction of Northbank,” he said.

“Until legislation changes to create a Lower Yarra River Authority, or at least a strong planning overlay, great projects like Greenline will proceed only spasmodically because of all the fingers currently in the pie.”

Cr Capp said she did not underestimate the project’s scale. “There is still a lot of work ahead, I absolutely understand that.”

Traditional custodians

The “key guiding document” for Greenline is the council’s in-depth Yarra River Birrarung Strategy, endorsed in December 2019.

One of the 15-year strategy’s primary ambitions was to improve reconciliation with traditional owners.

According to the strategy, for traditional owners’ water bodies such as rivers were and are inextricably connected to life’s meaning and have powerful cultural associations. 

Cr Capp said they hoped to reflect those values in Greenline designs.

“The Greenline would tell stories of Melbourne’s history and increase visibility and understanding of the area’s Aboriginal culture and heritage,” she said.

The council was now set to implement a final Greenline implementation plan by the end of 2021 •

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