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Councillors overrule residents

14 May 2015

Councillors overrule residents Image

By Sean Car

Despite receiving 67 written objections, City of Melbourne councillors have voted unanimously in favour of constructing a new coffee shop at Queensbridge Square.

The planning application, submitted by Cafenatics last July, went before council at the Future Melbourne Committee meeting on May 5, where a large number of residents turned out in opposition.

With the application now approved, a two-storey coffee shop, occupying a space of 12.4 metres in length and 6.3 metres in width of Crown Land, will now be constructed at the western section of the square.

The lease of Crown Land had already been granted by the City of Melbourne back in 2011, which received no submissions from the public following a 28-day public notice.

Despite the fierce opposition from residents Cr Ken Ong said the issue was a matter of planning and that the application ticked the boxes.

“This came through as a planning application and our job is to determine whether it complies with the planning scheme. Purely on the planning perspective it ticks the boxes,” he said.

“In terms of the land use that’s a separate matter and it needs to be taken further in a separate forum and that would have to be looked at at another location.”

Cr Ong told Southbank Local News in March that council had supported a push for a police pod in an effort to curb nighttime crime and violence in the square back in 2008.

However, he said that those plans had fallen through, due to Victoria Police stating that it didn’t have the resources to police a permanent pod.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle claimed that, at the time, Southbank residents had continued to push council to come up with an initiative to activate the square.

“I reject the fact that we haven’t been open and transparent, that we haven’t talked to the community,” he said.

“The somewhat frustrating thing is that we’ve been trying to do what the community has been asking us to do since 2008 and this is our resolution to that.”

Freshwater Place resident Cedric Saldanha slammed council’s conduct on the application in his submission and questioned its consultation process in 2011 when a lease was issued.

“When the initial lease of this space was opened out, there was not a single objection and yet today there are 67 objections,” he said.

“Does this not beg the question - did the planners really discuss this with key stakeholders as the Melbourne Planning Scheme requires them to?”

“Plunking a commercial cafe in the middle of the square, which takes away from open space is not activation. It is encroachment on precious citizen amenity.”

In April 2011, a confidential report prepared for the Future Melbourne Committee recommended that a lease of crown land be granted for the purpose of a coffee establishment.

Freshwater Place OC Chairman Peter Renner said the report stated consultation with Freshwater Place residents had occurred.

However, he claimed the reported consultation never took place.

“It referred to stakeholder consultation and that I quote ‘feedback was supportive of moves that would increase visitation, security and create a presence in the square’,” he said.

“The top most name on the top of that consultation was Freshwater Place Residents Body Corporate. This consultation never took place and I have signed a statutory declaration to that effect.”

Owners were also particularly upset because the public square was partly funded by Freshwater Place developer contributions totaling $300,000.

Former Southbank Residents Group President and Freshwater Place resident Michael Smolders argued that the coffee shop would detract from the open space.

“I am perplexed, as are many here today, as to why council believes that the addition of another cafe in a vibrant and active square, at the expense of public open space, is a positive outcome for us,” he said.

“I have no doubt that the significant reduction in this stall and event space may put at risk the viability of holding some of the recent cultural, national days held in the square.”

The Lord Mayor dismissed Mr Smolders’ agrument, stating that other cafes at City Square and Bourke St Mall in the CBD only added to the vibrancy of those public spaces.

“Neither one detracts from very, very busy public spaces, in fact they add to the amenity of both of those spaces,” he said.

“But you’re telling me a somehow under-utilised space like Queensbridge would not benefit from the same amenity as something like City Square or the Bourke Street Mall.”

“If you want to make it vibrant and active to me that’s way to do it.”

What do you think about the cafe at Queensbridge Square? Email your thoughts to: news@southbanklocalnews.com.au

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