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“Zombie” freight bridge reappears in latest Fishermans Bend strategy

Sean Car

A long-touted freight bridge running parallel to the Bolte Bridge, considered a “killer” for Docklands, has shown up again in the state government’s latest strategy and revised planning controls for Fishermans Bend. 

The state government reaffirmed its commitment to delivering a “world-class” design, engineering and advanced manufacturing precinct in the heart of Fishermans Bend through the release of new plans last month.

Minister for Business Precincts Martin Pakula launched the Advancing Manufacturing – the Fishermans Bend opportunity statement on September 1, outlining five key priorities for the Fishermans Bend National Employment and Innovation Cluster (NEIC).

The Employment Precinct is located within the City of Melbourne and is bound by Lorimer St and the Westgate Freeway. In 2016, the state government purchased the former General Motors Holden (GMH) site on Salmon St for what it hopes will form the nucleus of the NEIC.

To facilitate its vision, which “supported by major investments and planning approvals” that the government expects will attract key investors and major partners to the precinct, new interim planning controls to guide development were also announced on September 1.

But of concern to Docklands, was the return of a “potential freight link” on page 16 of the government’s statement, which has long been floated as solution to connect the two disparate parts of the Port of Melbourne between Webb and Swanson Docks.

Local residents and businesses have long argued that the already-mooted design of such a freight bridge would kill the viability of Docklands by cutting off its waterways. 

As reported in the June edition of Docklands News, Port of Melbourne (PoM) CEO Brendan Bourke reiterated the port’s desire for the freight bridge, which would see a six- to eight-metre-high bridge constructed adjacent to the Bolte Bridge.

“Connection of Inland Rail to the port, including a direct freight connection to Webb Dock, is essential to meeting the long term demands of consumers and business,” Mr Bourke told Docklands News.

“PoM is also investing more than $125 million in the Port Rail Transformation Project in the Swanson Dock precinct to increase port rail capacity.” 

The PoM’s 2050 Port Development Strategy, released in October last year, also includes the development of a Webb Dock freight link, which it stated was “crucial to container trade” and that it would be working with the state government to deliver it by 2030.

Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan recently refused to confirm the government’s interest in the project and outside of appearing in recent strategies for Fishermans Bend, it has remained tight-lipped. 

And of further concern for many Yarra’s Edge residents, the proposed tram bridge between Collins Wharf and its precinct also reappeared in the strategy as the “proposed route” linking the CBD with Fishermans Bend. 

Yarra Residents Action Group chairman Keith Sutherland said it was “time for honest answers” from the state government about the two “zombie bridges”. 

Mr Sutherland has reiterated calls for the government to consider the “cheaper” and “less disruptive” concepts such as an immersed tube underneath the Yarra, as seen in other cities including Hong Kong and Instanbul, as well as trackless trams.

“The ongoing saga of zombie bridges has been going for years and sadly this has not been addressed by the past few governments,” he said. 

“The tram bridge idea across the Yarra was suggested by the previous Liberal government but the Andrews government has allowed this uncertainty to fester under its administration which has not been fair on businesses, residents and boat owners.”

"Now we have further uncertainty with the freight bridge adjacent to Bolte Bridge as identified in the latest report.”

 

It has been grossly unfair to all stakeholders that the uncertainty of zombie bridges has been allowed to be unresolved over many years. Enough is enough.

 

"We support the redevelopment of Fishermen’s Bend which we believe is one of the most exciting new projects in Australia. It’s time to look beyond the square and look to the future not the past.”

The NEIC in Fishermans Bend is expected to be home to at least 40,000 jobs and more than 20,000 students by 2050 across key industries including aerospace, transport, defence, creative industries and clean energy.

With the University of Melbourne having already purchased a portion of the GMH site for its new engineering and design campus, which is expected to open in 2025, Mr Pakula said Fishermans Bend presented a “one-in-a-generation” opportunity.

“Powered by new technologies and world-leading engineering and design, Fishermans Bend presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a precinct that creates jobs for Victorians and produces solutions for the world,” he said.

The precinct is already home to large companies and organisations including Boeing, Siemens, Australian Road Research Board (ARRB), Black Magic Design, the Port of Melbourne and the Australian Government’s Defence Science and Technology Group.

The Fishermans Bend Development Board chair Meredith Sussex said partnerships within the precinct would form “critical steps” in realising the ambition of what she described as a “global opportunity”.

Supported by a $179.4 million investment in the 2021/22 Victorian Budget, the plan announced this month prioritises a “bringing to life” of the “catalyst” GMH site, while its other four key priorities focus on connectivity, a “green network”, civic boulevards and urban design.

With Fishermans Bend’s road network originally designed with freight in mind, connecting the precinct to the CBD and surrounds through active means of transport continues to prove a major hurdle in maximising the area’s potential.

While the government has yet to make any firm funding commitments towards creating a tram link to the CBD, its latest plan again references the proposed tram bridge over the Yarra River through Docklands, which is still understood to be its preferred route.

A “potential” underground passenger train service, known as Melbourne Metro 2, is also included.

Mr Pakula said the “new Fishermans Bend” was taking shape in other ways with a pilot project for a green spine and cycle connection corridor along Turner St to be delivered in partnership with the City of Melbourne during the next year.

With the University of Melbourne one of the precinct’s major tenants, Minister for Planning Richard Wynne also announced the approval of the proposal for a new Engineering and Design innovation campus on September 1.

It’s been long understood that RMIT University is also in talks with the state government about investing in the GMH site but its plan hinge on the delivery of public transport, namely the new tram link.

The state government’s latest strategy said it was also its intention “to engage with key stakeholders, including the City of Melbourne to find a more suitable name” for the Employment Precinct in the “near future” •

Docklands: It’s time for a plan

Docklands: It’s time for a plan

September 29th, 2021 - Sean Car
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