Once-per-decade strategy reveals renewed vision for Docklands

Once-per-decade strategy reveals renewed vision for Docklands
David Schout

Docklands’ local population will almost double by 2040 according to a once-per-decade planning blueprint that pledges the local waterfront to become a “showpiece destination for visitors to Melbourne”.

The council’s Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS), last updated in 2010, vowed to “redefine Central Pier and Harbour Esplanade as the gateway to Docklands”

It also promised to improve design quality to deliver “architectural diversity” in the area while more small-scale buildings like kiosks and pavilions would be encouraged across the neighbourhood.

The updated city-wide vision, released by the City of Melbourne in July, focused heavily on huge projected growth west of the CBD.

Industrial and former industrial areas such as Arden, Macaulay, and Fishermans Bend will “accommodate a significant portion of the growth and change in the municipality over the next 20 years”.

It is proposed these areas will become “the new Fitzroy or Collingwood for the west of the city”.

“The growth of the municipality is now moving west, onto the lower, wetter plains,” the strategy stated.

However, E-gate, an area which borders Docklands (along Footscray Rd) strongly earmarked in the past for residential and commercial development, was noticeably absent from future resident plans.

While the council projected E-gate to be an “affordable mixed-use neighbourhood with direct and active connections to Docklands” in future, the MPS indicated there would be zero residents in the renewal area by 2040.

The blueprint indicated that within Docklands itself, the council had forecast continual growth despite the impact of COVID-19.

Docklands’ 2020 population of 16,035 would almost double to 29,791 while worker numbers would also grow from 66,250 to 91,002.

This was despite the fact that large Victoria Harbour-based employers have seen a sharp decline of workers since the start of the pandemic.

Further, Premier Daniel Andrews declared in March that he believed a shift to hybrid working was “permanent” and did not believe things would return to how they were pre-pandemic.

The key pillars

The MPS, which introduces policies that guide both land use and development decisions, contained three “key moves” for Docklands in the next 20 years.

These were: the redevelopment of Central Pier and surrounds, activation of the waterfront with small scale-structures and retail and entertainment uses, and the adaptive reuse of Shed 21 for community space.

The council was clear in its goal to redefine Central Pier and Harbour Esplanade as the gateway to Docklands.

“[It would] create a new destination that attracts visitors from the stadium and city at all times of day and improve connections between the Hoddle Grid and Docklands,” it stated.

The plan for smaller scale urban elements, such as kiosks and pavilions, was in order to “break down the scale of the existing built form and create a comfortable human scale public realm”.

It stated that a “cohesive public realm” would bring Docklands together.

When contacted by Docklands News the council confirmed that the nature of future community space and facilities to be provided at Shed 21 (Bolte West Precinct) were yet to be determined, however would be closely linked to the development of Fishermans Bend Lorimer Precinct as well as Docklands.

Development Victoria (DV), which owns the site, led an expression of interest process to activate the area in 2018 and received interest from urban sports providers. This led to the trial of Melbourne’s first Padel Tennis courts being established at the site earlier this year.

The City of Melbourne has also relocated its pop-up Fishermans Bend Gateway Hub to the site – a community space featuring a range of events including tours, workshops, food trucks and entertainment – all aimed at promoting the urban renewal project.

In 2019, the council approved an amended Bolte Precinct Development Plan, which earmarked a community space incorporating a health and wellbeing hub, maritime waterfront facilities and arts and recreation facilities within the heritage sheds.

DV is expected to transfer control of the site to the City of Melbourne in the future.

DV’s group head, precincts Geoff Ward said it had refurbished Shed 21 over the past few years with the aim of making “this unique Docklands heritage asset available for public use.”

“This waterfront site really speaks to and celebrates Docklands’ maritime history,” Mr Ward said.

“Shed 21 hosts pop-up sport and recreation activities, community and cultural events – and is home to Melbourne’s first Padel Tennis courts and more recently City of Melbourne’s Fishermans Bend Gateway Hub – which has relocated to the site.”

“It’s a great location, offering outstanding views of the city, ports and fronts onto the Yarra River, and we invite a wide range of users to express interest in this new and exciting facility.”


A map from the Municipal Planning Strategy.


An overarching blueprint

While not introducing an entirely new vision for the future of the city, the updated MPS rather consolidates the council’s already-endorsed policies (from recent years) related to planning matters, such as the Affordable Housing Strategy and the Transport Strategy 2030.

Planning chair Cr Nicholas Reece said it was a “once in a decade opportunity to chart a course for what Melbourne will look like in the decades ahead.”

“We’re planning out to 2040,” Cr Reece said.

“Modern Melbourne, as we know it, is not just a city that happened by magic. It’s the result of very deliberate, and strategic, decision-making by the city and by the state. It’s the product of one good decision building on another.”

Cr Reece said that just like inner suburbs to the northeast of the CBD have markedly changed, so too will those to the west.

“Suburbs like West Melbourne will transition. They’ve got a strong industrial history — they’ll continue to be a place where a lot of people are employed but will also take on a much more residential character, becoming like the new Fitzroy or Collingwood for the west of the city.”

Deputy planning chair Cr Rohan Leppert said the strategy would play a hugely influential role in upcoming planning matters and meant that the “unholy friction” between local and state government planning agendas could be managed.

“[That relationship] can be managed in a way that there’s some certainty and some understanding by all parties in the planning system, especially local residents of the City of Melbourne, as to what the government’s agenda is and why, and how these different pieces come together,” Cr Leppert said.


“If you think about how much the city has changed in the last 10 years, it’s that second role — not the ‘here’s our ambitious statement for the future’ — but how do we consolidate all of those policies and tell the clearest narrative that we possibly can about where development goes across the municipality and why.”


The council will now seek authorisation from the new Minister for Planning Lizzie Blandthorn before commencing public exhibition and will seek input from community members across the municipality.

“We’re expecting bouquets [but] we’re probably expecting brickbats as well — that’s the nature of community consultation and it’s so important that we get it on this exercise,” the Deputy Lord Mayor said.

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