“Not good enough”: Councillors scathing of Marvel Stadium plans

“Not good enough”: Councillors scathing of Marvel Stadium plans
Sean Car

Development Victoria and the AFL have been jointly slammed by City of Melbourne councillors over the first stage of plans to redevelop Marvel Stadium’s waterfront edge, with Cr Jamal Hakim going so far as to label it as “embarrassing”.

Marking the first major step in the stadium precinct’s transformation along Harbour Esplanade, an application for a planning scheme amendment went before councillors for comment at the May 7 Future Melbourne Committee meeting.

With the Minister for Planning the final authority in approving the amendment, the City of Melbourne was invited to have its say on the site-specific planning controls proposed as well as a master plan, with detailed designs to be submitted at a later date.

The joint project by Development Victoria (DV) and the AFL and designed by Grimshaw Architects is seeking to construct three new towers at 140-160 Harbour Esplanade currently occupied by the Channel 7 building and AFL House. A range of uses across the three buildings is mooted, including offices, a function centre and retail, with options for homes and hotel subject to market conditions.

While current planning controls for both sites stipulate height limits of 75 and 60 metres, respectively, the amendment has sought to supersede these by constructing towers 129, 113 and 80 metres high.

Councillors were presented with an “incorporated document” on May 7, which outlined the proposed site-specific controls that DV and the AFL have requested the project be assessed against as opposed to the Melbourne Planning Scheme.

But while the council’s planning team supported the “broad design vision” of the proposal to create a landmark that “supports the city’s relationship with Harbour Esplanade”, it was critical of several “key outstanding matters”.

“A higher order strategic issue arising from the proposed amendment is the absence of current strategic plans for the surrounding precinct, including Central Pier, Harbour Esplanade and how the waterfront will better connect to the city,” the report by the council’s planners stated.

 

The proposal also seeks a significant uplift in the context of existing planning controls without the provision of a commensurate public benefit such as affordable housing and/or investment into the upgrade of Harbour Esplanade.

 

The report also raised concerns that the plans had not been tested against the Office of the Victorian Government Architect’s design review panel process in what they considered to be a “state significant project”.

Council planning officer Marjorie Kennedy said more strategic information regarding community benefit, movement and wayfinding, flood mitigation, tree removal, adaptive reuse, shadow analysis and wind mitigation was required before approval.

“This site is seeking a planning scheme amendment which would facilitate a development, but we need to understand what the precinct plan is so that we know what this project would be interacting with,” Ms Kennedy said.

Docklands resident Sandra Severin, one of many local residents to oppose the plans in their current form, described the project as the “the Development Victoria wall of Marvel” that threatened “splitting our suburb”.

“Considering Docklands’ various precincts are naturally separated from each other by water, how does restricting access even further by potentially cutting the suburb in half assist the community to grow?” Ms Severin asked.

 

 

Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece ultimately moved an amended motion to oppose the amendment, stating the council was “absolutely resolute that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past in Docklands.”

“In very simple terms, this proposal is seeking a site-specific approval without the approval of other key contextual documents,” Cr Reece said.

“Remember, this is being brought forward from Development Victoria, who have responsibility for the development of this precinct. So, the proposal seeks to introduce, for example, three new major pedestrian connections to the public realm before we actually know what the plans are for what they will lead to.”

“I do note the large number of submissions we’ve received from Docklands residents and others … one described the main building [that] runs the length of Marvel Stadium as the ‘Great Wall of Docklands’.”

“Now a project and a building of that size we would expect to go through an Office of the Victorian Government Architect design review process where we can really resolve some of those challenging aspects to the built form and come back with a project which really achieves the sort of architectural design excellence which we rightly expect here in Melbourne.”

Cr Rohan Leppert was damning of the plan’s lack of strategic justifications, and questioned why no-one from DV, the AFL, Urbis or Grimshaw had presented to answer questions.

In a scathing critique, Cr Leppert tore apart the plan’s urban context analysis as “reverse engineered gobbledygook” and the overall “key principles” diagram as “nonsense on stilts”.

 

The “key principles” diagram that Cr Rohan Leppert described as “nonsense on stilts”. 

 

“The longer I look at this image, the less I know about the urban context strategy that’s been chosen by the applicants,” Cr Leppert said.

“What was the purpose of this journey that we’ve just gone on? How does this project connect the city to the waterfront? This is reverse engineered gobbledygook.”

“You can’t come up with a design and then reverse engineer a strategic justification for it and pretend that this cuts the mustard.”

 

We need to understand the strategic basis for this proposal, how it connects Docklands with other parts of the city, what its relationship with Harbour Esplanade can be, and then we’ll have an idea about whether this is an idea worth pursuing.

 

Cr Leppert also took aim at Development Victoria for failing to reveal what it was planning for Harbour Esplanade and the surrounding waterfront at Central Pier and said the strategic thinking for the precinct was being done “the other way around”.

“Development Victoria is a co-proponent of this application. We cannot consider this in isolation unless we understand what’s happening right next to it on Harbour Esplanade,” he said.

“There are overshadowing considerations for Harbour Esplanade, but what is Harbour Esplanade going to be? I mean, we need some level of thinking into what’s going on there.”

“This is among the largest and most significant developments, and it is co-sponsored by government. Government needs to lead by example here.”

“It is just not good enough that the entire strategic framework is missing. I know I’m a little bit more agitated than I normally am, but we’re not going to be making this decision, the minister is, and so I think I need to really make the point.”

Docklands resident Cr Jamal Hakim finished off by stating: “this has to be one of the most embarrassing applications we’ve ever seen”, calling on DV and the AFL to consider the Docklands community in the plans.

“Someone’s clearly dropped the ball on this application. Either that or we’re all missing something really dodgy,” Cr Hakim said.

“I think it’s made worse that no-one’s here to speak on behalf of the applicant, and I think that’s something for somebody to consider.”

“Surely there’s a misstep here by the applicant and it’s time to go back to the drawing board.” •

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