Works plough ahead to remove Central Pier’s historic western tip

Works plough ahead to remove Central Pier’s historic western tip
Brendan Rees

Works have begun to rip up the western tip of Central Pier in Docklands following its rapid deterioration – but the move has divided public opinion over the pier’s future.

The century-old pier, which housed function spaces, restaurants, and offices, was shut down in August 2019 after engineers found it unsafe and “could collapse at any time”.

The western tip is no longer connected to the main pier structure and has been inaccessible after being deemed structurally unsound for several years.

The pier’s owner, Development Victoria (DV), said works had begun at the end of January with contractors using a barge system to dismantle and remove the western tip “piece by piece”.

DV’s group head of precincts, Geoff Ward, said the works were expected to be completed by 2023 but did not include the main structure of Central Pier which remained an “important heritage asset in the heart of Docklands.”

“The western tip of Central Pier has not been in use for a very long time due to safety issues and we have now appointed specialist contractors, Fitzgerald Constructions, to remove it from the water,” he said.

Crews are based at a site at NewQuay West with works being undertaken in accordance with all approved permits.

Mr Ward said it would consult the community and key stakeholders over the long-term planning of the pier to create a “vision for the future as part of Docklands’ continued development.”

“We’ll continue working with Heritage Victoria, local business and the community on the long-term plans for Central Pier,” he said.

Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network chair, Dr Jackie Watts, said the decision by DV to demolish the historic western tip was the culmination of a “long and intensely disrespectful process in relation to its obligation to preserve Victoria’s heritage-listed maritime heritage”.

“The process has been clearly demolition by neglect,” she said. “You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that demolishing the mid-section of Central Pier years ago would destabilise the tip.”

“Development Victoria fails to acknowledge the heritage significance of Central Pier or Victoria Harbour for that matter.”

 

The costs of demolition could have been spent on repair and preservation. And here we go again ‘investing’ public money in demolition rather than investing in preserving this unique publicly owned heritage asset.

 

“DV failed to see that the remaining tip still had value. By the time the application was made to Heritage Victoria for a permit to demolish, time and tide had weakened the ‘island’ structure of the pier.”

But Shane Wylie, executive officer of the Docklands Chamber of Commerce [DCC], said the chamber was “delighted to see action regarding Central Pier".

“The removal of the western tip is small scale compared to the complete project but after more than two years we’re very happy to see progress,” he said.

“The DCC has been in close talks with Development Victoria all through this process. We’ve appreciated their transparency and hope that this first movement accelerates the complete process which we have no doubt will be a complicated and elongated one.”

“We will remain in consultation with Development Victoria as will all Docklands stakeholders in the hopes that we can bring the harbour into the 21st century as a highlight for all of Melbourne.”

The removal of the western tip comes as a report by respected analysts SGS Economics and Planning had shown that the loss of the pier would cost Melbourne’s economy $865 million over five years.

SGS found the impact was felt most in the accommodation and food sectors of Docklands, costing 28 per cent of jobs in the sector and 18 per cent of retail jobs each year the pier remained closed.

Before closing, Central Pier was home to eight businesses including a function centre run by The Atlantic Group, which employed 1300 people.

The report, commissioned by the City of Melbourne and released last December, found the closure had a “significant impact” on the Docklands and City of Melbourne economies with total output losses of $192 million and $240 million, respectively, in its first year of closure.

The report said a reconstruction of the pier would cost up to $550 million but noted its opening would contribute an additional $251.7 million annually in economic output and provide an extra 2016 jobs.

SGS said the suggestions for Docklands as a destination “focus on the idea that multiple smaller solutions for the precinct would be beneficial as opposed to relying on one site as a key attractor.”

“The precinct would benefit from a clear vision and identity, greater investment in the public realm, creating permanent attractors and improving connectivity of the precinct with surrounding visitor economy drawcards,” it said.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp acknowledged the impact of Central Pier’s closure was “severe” and believed the pier should be demolished and redeveloped to become a “buzzing waterfront hotspot.”

“The pier must be reactivated to bring thousands of jobs and millions of visitors back into Docklands,” she said.

“The redevelopment of Central Pier is a crucial step to reinvigorate Docklands as a premier destination for tourism and entertainment.”

“We strongly urge the Victorian Government to get on with it and demolish Central Pier and establish a temporary feature on the water to attract visitors until major works can occur.” 

Simon Ambrose, CEO of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria), said the trust was disappointed that no public consultation had been undertaken on the project, “something that we requested as part of our submission to Heritage Victoria”.

“Planning for this important heritage place needs to be transparent and consultative,” he said.

But he added while the demolition of the western tip was disappointing, “this requirement is an exciting opportunity to celebrate the story of Melbourne’s role as one of the world’s major ports”.

“The demolition of the western tip of Central Pier is contingent on the celebration of the site’s history, and a physical installation to mark the full length of the pier, as built in 1916-17.”

The western tip, as well as the pier itself, require heritage approval for any proposed remediation or demolition works to be carried out. 

According to Dr Watts, a key condition of the demolition permit was “to make sure the significant heritage of that tip of that pier is recognised in some form.”

DV said all materials from the western tip would be transferred to land, with timber and concrete being taken to a certified recycler, while other reclaimed materials would “be disposed of in the appropriate manner” •

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