North Wharf safety concerns
By Sean Car
Development Victoria’s (DV’s) recent decision to fence off the pier at North Wharf Rd to the public without notice has added to existing uncertainty among the Docklands boating community.
More than a year since its sudden evacuation of Central Pier amid safety concerns, in October DV erected fencing around the northern edge of North Wharf, which is used as a berth for a number of charter boats, as well as heritage vessels Enterprize and Alma Doepel.
While operators and workers have been granted access to boats since the fencing went up, it’s understood many, including the Docklands waterways managers at Melbourne City Marina, were given less than a day’s notice of the closure.
DV told Docklands News that the wharf, which is normally well-used by local residents and office workers for walking and cycling, would be fenced off to the public for around five months while engineers carried out remediation works.
While the works are believed to be part of a routine maintenance and assessment program ahead of future high-rise development by LendLease along North Wharf Rd, the extent of damage to piles underneath the pier isn’t known.
Workers from one charter boat told Docklands News that they’d been granted padlock access to their berth, but that vehicle access for deliveries and refuelling along the wharf’s edge had been restricted due to safety concerns. Passenger access at the pier is also not permitted while works are undertaken.
While those working on the Alma Doepel restoration and staff at the Enterprize are able to access their boats via the Ocean Education Centre, operator of Victoria Star Leigh Doeg told Docklands News he had initially
been locked from his boat.
“The first notice I received was that it had been locked off,” he said. “Access was a complete afterthought but it was worked out within a day or two. The first person to work it out was myself.”
“I’ve got a combination padlock and there are about six padlocks so that the people who need to get on the wharf can do so. I had to buy my own lock.”
Currently undertaking maintenance works on his boat along North Wharf in preparation for a return to service by March from his home berth near Dock 5, Mr Doeg said the fencing wouldn’t impact his business.
But while noting the issues caused by the sudden fencing off of the pier had been easily resolved, he said that people in the boating community were “pretty annoyed” by what was a “completely avoidable” situation.
Group head of precincts at DV Geoff Ward told Docklands News that it was undertaking repair work on “a number of timber piles” underneath the concrete deck at North Wharf as part of its overall maintenance of water infrastructure in Docklands.
“We have had ongoing communication with tenants of the sheds and boat operators to facilitate safe access to allow them to continue their work during the maintenance and will continue to keep them updated,” he said.
“While the work is being undertaken, there will be no public access to North Wharf to allow the maintenance and repair work to continue safely. Signage and fencing have been installed to prevent unauthorised access.”
DV said that while timber piles were a small component of the overall concrete structure of North Wharf, which had recently been assessed as being in good condition, they had recently been assessed and required remediation to “ensure longevity”.
But what specific engineering advice or works carried out to date leading to the sudden fencing off to the public remains a mystery, with boating operators still unclear about what exact areas were of concern.
President of the Melbourne Passenger Boating Association and operator of the Lady Cutler Jeff Gordon said the actions of DV showed that charter boats in Docklands were “invisible”.
“It’s just another step in the easing out of charter boats out of Victoria Harbour,” he said. “They’d rather have plastic fantastics growing weeds at marina berths.”
“During COVID times it [North Wharf] was everybody’s walk but it’s like they [DV] don’t see the boats.”
“It’s part of the amenity to walk along there to enjoy the boats and the harbour. You can do that in any great harbour in the world but they just don’t get it. They’re only focused on high-rise and marina berths.”