It’s time to change the narrative on Central Pier

It’s time to change the narrative on Central Pier

By Sean Car

The past few months have brought further division on the issue of Docklands’ sleeping giant Central Pier, in a situation where there are proving to be no winners.

In December, the pier’s owner Development Victoria (DV) announced that it was preparing to remove the western tip of Central Pier from Victoria Harbour as it begins the process of “safely revitalising the historic Victorian dock”.

As DV pointed out in a press release issued on December 15, the pier’s western tip has been inaccessible for several years after being deemed structurally unsound. That section, as well the entire pier, requires a permit from Heritage Victoria before it can be touched.

This news was followed by DV releasing an expression of interest for “demolition works” of Central Pier on December 21, seen by Docklands News. While DV said the timing of the tender release was dependent on a heritage permit being submitted, it was approved back in March last year.

And while this document could easily be dismissed as a “tyre kicking exercise”, a phrase some within DV have used to describe the process, it calls for expressions of interest into the possible “demolition, removal and disposal of buildings, structures and all remaining assets”.

There is little doubt that should the heritage-listed pier be reinstated in the future, it will require extensive demolition across various sections before heritage elements can be retained and restored, and the pier rebuilt.

That is, at least, what the community expects. And after a story appeared in The Age in January unearthing Federal Court documents from the case between DV and its anchor tenant Atlantic Group, which exposed DV’s knowledge of the pier’s critical condition long before its sudden closure in August 2019, it’s what the community deserves.

But DV’s press release titled “Western tip of Central Pier to be removed” and an ensuing document putting out the feelers for possible demolition of the pier in its entirety, is somewhat presumptuous without the all-clear from Heritage Victoria.

And while DV clearly states it is working with Heritage Victoria on this journey, to the awaiting public and local community in Docklands, these moves set a narrative that the cart has left before the horse.

The future of Central Pier is, according to DV, still undetermined and long-term planning for its resurrection will only be done so with “extensive engagement with the community and key stakeholders to create a vision for Victoria Harbour and Central Pier.”

“DV is currently preparing to remove the western tip of Central Pier from Victoria Harbour in Docklands. The scope of works across the rest of Central Pier is yet to be determined,” Geoff Ward, Group Head, Precincts, DV, said.

“We’re working closely with Heritage Victoria on the long-term plans for Central Pier, and we will consult with the community and local business throughout the process.”

But for a community that is eagerly awaiting clear information on its maritime asset, the prospects, whether real or not, of demolitions being earmarked without knowledge is the wrong narrative to be setting.

This coupled with the piece in The Age published on January 19, which exposed DV’s alleged knowledge of the pier’s risk of “catastrophic failure” around 10 months before the pier’s sudden evacuation, doesn’t help DV’s cause either.

DV’s response to that story, which argued that the facts laid bare in court documents did not represent an agreed chronology, were not complete or were in dispute, highlights just how significantly it’s allowed everyone else but itself to control the narrative.

The story in The Age said that DV “had the option of terminating its anchor tenant Atlantic Group’s lease without paying compensation provided it offered 24 months’ notice, but it did not act”.

“Instead, the agency claimed, just before shutting down the pier, that Atlantic Group had technically breached a number of minor provisions in its lease agreement. This meant it was not eligible for compensation after the closure,” The Age reported.

Docklands News asked DV what those “minor provisions” were, and was told, “The tenants of Central Pier have commenced a Court Proceeding that DV is defending. It is not appropriate for DV to comment on matters that are presently before the Court,” a spokesperson for DV said.

Ever since DV CEO Angela Skandarajah’s uncomfortable interview with John Faine on ABC Radio in 2019 following the pier’s closure, this has been the government agency’s approach to everything concerning the pier. Say nothing, do even less.

And given the court documents confirming much of what most people already suspected about DV’s conduct, one must wonder whether it’s time it changed its approach. But, don’t hold your breath.

Recent events have only likely confirmed a healthy compensation for DV’s opponents, but there are no winners in this, and the narrative must start to change if we’re to see the pier returned to Docklands anytime soon •

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