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Queensbridge Square under threat

12 Mar 2015

Queensbridge Square under threat Image

Exclusive by Sean Car

The Freshwater Place owners’ corporation (OC) is angry after receiving a letter from the City of Melbourne last month, alerting it of a proposal for a two-storey coffee shop in the heart of Queensbridge Square.

The proposal, which was submitted by Cafenatics to the council last July, would occupy a space of 12.4 metres in length and 6.3 metres in width of Crown Land at the western section of the square.

The owners are particularly upset because the public square was partly funded by Freshwater Place developer contributions.

According to City of Melbourne Councillor Ken Ong, plans for the project have been discussed behind closed doors with the previous State Government since 2011.

He said the council’s planning department was still assessing the matter and that all concerns would be taken into consideration.

“In terms of the location, details of this proposal were part of a confidential item of a Future Melbourne Committee meeting in 2011 and, as such, I am unable to reveal details of that meeting,” he said.

“Council is aware that there are concerns and objections to its presence and planning officers will consider all issues before any recommendation is made to council.”

In a letter to residents, Freshwater Place OC chairman Peter Renner said the committee believed the proposal was “wholly unacceptable for a range of reasons,” and that it intended to send a letter of objection to the City of Melbourne.

In a summary of issues attached to the letter, the committee raised concerns surrounding public space, which Freshwater Place had contributed $300,000 to help construct in 2005, as well as a “long-pending request” for a police station at the square.

“The council and the State Government apparently had no available place in Southbank for a police booth/station – a long pending request of the local community,” the letter stated.

“This was rejected due to ‘land issues’. Yet, it seems that the council and State Government have magically conjured up a premise for a proposed commercial enterprise almost right in the middle of the square?”

“This sends some very wrong and distressing messages to residents and voters about the priorities of these state bodies.”

Cr Ong said the council had supported a push for a police pod, having set aside $50,000 for the project in 2009.

However, he said plans had fallen through following discussions with Victoria Police, which is currently looking at relocating from its St Kilda Rd station.

He said part of the plan behind the coffee shop proposal was to provide a form of surveillance at Queensbridge Square, which operate until late at night.

“The proposed Cafenatics facility could also add to active use and surveillance of this area. Its design allows for patrons to view the area from the platform,” he said.

“Since 2009, council has been looking at improving the active surveillance of this area, as a result of community requirement to improve public safety in this area, especially during the night-time.”

“One of the proposals had been to build a temporary Police Pod in this area, pending a decision by Victoria Police on the permanent location of a City South Police Station after the closure of the St Kilda Road station.”

Southbank Residents Group President Tony Penna objected to the proposal, stating that residents had not been consulted.

“In the past, CoM will inform and liaise with SRG regarding usage, planning or issues surrounding the Southbank public open space,” he said. “I am at a loss trying to understand why they have not consulted SRG with regard to the planning application for this space.”

“Public open space is an extremely scarce resource in Southbank and we need to ensure any changes to such space is providing direct benefit to the community.”

“I have yet to see any reports which provide any such explanation as to how the local community will benefit from sacrificing this open space to a commercial enterprise.”

State Labor Minister and Member for Albert Park Martin Foley also slammed the proposal for encroaching on public space.

“If there is one thing we are not short of in Southbank it is coffee shops,” he said.

“Public open space is a rare commodity in Southbank. Surprising privations like this one that eat into that open space are of dubious community benefit.”

“On balance the application would seem to have little wider benefit. I hope the responsible planning authority will take this into consideration.”

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