Hey, Development Victoria … what’s happening with Harbour Esplanade?

Hey, Development Victoria … what’s happening with Harbour Esplanade?
Sean Car

The AFL’s long-awaited transformation of the waterfront edge of Marvel Stadium has further revealed the backwards approach to planning when it comes to Docklands, and what is at risk should it be allowed to continue.

As you’ll read in this edition, the City of Melbourne was relentless in its criticism of Development Victoria (DV) and the AFL’s plans on May 7 for many reasons, but it was one nauseating theme that again stood out the most …

The council’s own planning officers have described the project as “state significant,” yet the plans revealed so far have left a lot to be desired, devoid of key strategic detail and untested against the best of Victorian design excellency standards.

Where else but Docklands?

It’s telling that no-one from either DV or the AFL registered to address councillors on May 7, nor did they make themselves available to answer any questions despite having representatives present on the night. Did they appreciate just how underdone the plans were and thought best to avoid the scrutiny?

If so, one has to wonder how DV let it come to this.

 

The redevelopment of the stadium’s edge along Harbour Esplanade represents a rich opportunity to reimagine Docklands. It’s an opportunity worth celebrating and not to be taken lightly, nor without the buy-in of the community.

 

Unfortunately, it’s not off to a good start, and unless the council’s advice to “go back to the drawing board” is heeded, something much more precious is at stake than just another regrettable planning outcome.

And, that is, Harbour Esplanade itself.

As he tore the plan’s urban context analysis to shreds on May 7, Cr Rohan Leppert rightly pointed out that the council couldn’t consider the application in isolation, “unless we understand what’s happening right next to it on Harbour Esplanade.”

“What is Harbour Esplanade going to be? We need some level of thinking into what’s going on there,” Cr Leppert said.

Despite a master plan that’s been sitting on the shelf since 2016, the answer is nobody has a clue what Harbour Esplanade is going to be because of the back-to-front approach to planning led by DV.

How can it be that the AFL is able to submit such a rushed effort to redevelop its stadium precinct, but the community is still left hanging for answers about its most critical piece of public space?

It’s perhaps the most glaring omission. How there appears to be no commitment to contribute towards the upgrade of Harbour Esplanade – the public realm it is directly encroaching on – is staggering; particularly given DV is a co-proponent.

But looking forward, one should at least expect that as part of digesting the council’s feedback, DV concedes on Harbour Esplanade and opens the entire redevelopment of the precinct, including Marvel Stadium and Central Pier, for community input.

No doubt very few will be holding their breath, but as Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said, it’s crucial that the “mistakes of the past in Docklands” aren’t repeated. It’s never too late to do things the right way around. •

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