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Plenty of room for compromise

08 Sep 2016

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Editorial comment by Sean Car

Anyone who lives or works around Ferrars St knows just how wide the streets are in that part of the Montague Precinct.

There is diagonal car parking on both sides, generous footpaths and nature strips and street lanes so wide that three to four cars could drive side by side simultaneously.

Yet the City of Port Phillip still seems to consider it viable to shut down this entire space to pursue its utopian view for an even larger Montague Park at the old Map Coffee site.

This might be reasonable if the Montague Precinct was a brownfields site, which some planners and developers like to think it is.

The fact is that, within what is too often perceived as blank canvas, lies a rich tapestry of residents and businesses that have inhabited this area for many years.

A prime example of this are the 30 businesses of Surveyors Place and Meaden St, which collectively employ more than 380 workers.

It would seem that until only recently, the City of Port Phillip didn’t even know these businesses existed – such is its disregard for them illustrated in its sweeping plans for a new education and community precinct.

No one, including local business people, is opposed to either the vertical primary school or the Montague Park. They will provide wonderful and lasting community assets and the State Government and the City of Port Phillip should be applauded for the initiatives.

However, when we talk about community assets, do local businesses not classify? Should their contributions to the local community, of which some date back more than 15 years, not be taken into consideration?

While the City of Port Phillip’s vision for a “no-car” precinct by 2020 is all very well, it is a vision lacking reality. Removing 183 car parks from the area is naive, given the current lack of public transport.     

And with Montague set to gradually transform into a Southbank-esque high-rise neighbourhood, the congestion that narrowing and closing streets could cause should already trouble planners.

Given the huge demand for local schools in the broader areas of Port Phillip and the inner city, the idea that all families will be within walking, riding or commuting distance also seems a touch naive. This is without mentioning teachers and visitors.

While there is certainly a transitional scope to limit the use of cars over time, preventing access and removing car parking doesn’t only present problems for businesses.

Yet the problems businesses are facing now are far more troubling than devising a travel plan to get to school on time. The council’s plan, in its current form, threatens their livelihoods.

Many, if not all of these businesses, will simply be rendered unviable without car parking and vehicle access. All for a few extra square metres of public open space and wider footpaths.

That’s not to mention the lost opportunity of failing to embrace the vibrant and creative hub that is Surveyors Place. It’s home to a range of creative industries, which are exactly the sorts of businesses that would marry up well with an innovative vertical school.

While recent negotiations between planning officers and businesses suggests there is some scope for optimism, it would be most unfortunate if their wishes fell on deaf ears come September 13.

The City of Port Phillip must realise that there is plenty of room for compromise here.

After all, even closing half a street as wide as Ferrars would suit the needs of all parties. The community can still have a generously sized park, but not at the detriment of local businesses.

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