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A boost for Southbank as new parks mooted under bold new vision for South Melbourne

A boost for Southbank as new parks mooted under bold new vision for South Melbourne
Brendan Rees

Southbankers could soon enjoy access to a new linear park, public open spaces, and improved pedestrian amenities and streetscapes under an ambitious plan for neighbouring South Melbourne outlined by the City of Port Phillip.

The draft South Melbourne Structure Plan, which was to be considered by councillors at their February 7 meeting, proposes a range of initiatives to improve the liveability and attractiveness of the area while supporting business growth and respecting heritage over the next 20 years.

The plan’s remit extends from Kings Way and the West Gate Freeway in Southbank to Ferrars St and City Rd bordering the Montague Precinct, and as far south as Park St in South Melbourne.

One huge win for postcode 3006 is a proposed linear park at Market St in Southbank between Clarendon St and Moray St, while a green corridor could also be created with an additional linear park at Clarke St between York and Chessell streets to address current open space gaps.

The council said it would also partner with the City of Melbourne to explore the feasibility of continuing the Clarke St linear park north to City Rd.

Residents have consistently called for more green spaces as Southbank’s growing population (predicted to jump from 22,589 to 44,606 by 2041) together with rapid development put a squeeze on the area’s precious few parks.

The City of Port Phillip has also used the plan to advocate for the revitalisation of the West Gate Freeway undercroft, including introducing upgraded lighting, improved amenity and safety, and opportunities for activation.

According to the South Melbourne Structure Plan, the City of Port Phillip acknowledged while it “cannot directly influence outcomes on these sites,” there were “opportunities to advocate to the City of Melbourne, Victorian Government and car park operators to improve the presentation and use of the undercroft”.

 

“The undercroft areas under the West Gate Freeway present a significant barrier between South Melbourne in the City of Port Phillip and Southbank in the City of Melbourne, with their poor amenity diminishing perceptions of safety in the area,” the plan stated.

 

In other measures, a proposed public open space on the corner of Coventry and Moray streets “would provide a complementary function to the future community hospital” as part of Homes Victoria’s master plan to revitalise the Emerald Hill Court public housing estate bound by Dorcas, Moray, Coventry and Luke streets.

Homes Victoria’s own master plan for the precinct will deliver Stage 1 of the Emerald Hill Big Housing Build which will integrate new social and affordable housing with a new community hospital.

The draft South Melbourne Structure plan envisions a “vibrant neighbourhood” with cycling links and better pedestrian networks including awnings, seating, water access and signage, with streetscape upgrades proposed for Clarendon St, Coventry St, and York St “providing attractive east-west links”.

Improved pedestrian crossings are proposed at the intersections of Clarendon St/York St, Sturt St/Dorcas St, and Clarendon St/Market St.

Additionally, the council has proposed to work with Department of Transport and Planning (DTP) for improvements to existing signalised intersections along Kings Way, City Rd and Ferrars St “to improve capacity and performance, along with achieving improvements for pedestrians and bike riders crossing these busy roads”.

“Improvements could include changes to signal phasing and times, turn lane lengths and changes to parking bans on approaches,” the plans stated.

Furthermore, the plans recommend changes to the size and height of new buildings to accommodate a growing population but not to the detriment of South Melbourne’s character and scale.

Taller buildings up to 12 storeys along Kings Way would be recommended and on larger sites in the north of the precinct, but buildings would be kept to seven or eight storeys along 30-metre-wide streets, and heights up to five and six storeys on narrower streets.   

City of Port Phillip Gateway Ward councillor Marcus Pearl said the draft plan was a “considered response to the complex challenges and opportunities of South Melbourne”.

“It addresses some of the important issues in the post-COVID economic recovery, yet concerns persist about whether the plan adequately addresses the urgent need for high-quality housing, especially for young people, and ensures that South Melbourne does not merely become an extension of Southbank or the CBD,” he said.

Cr Pearl highlighted potential areas for improvement, noting, “the draft plan does not sufficiently focus on the integration and connectivity with the Westgate Freeway, and the proposed enhancements could risk altering the character of South Melbourne in ways that may not align with the community’s values and needs.”

Ecologist Dr Holly Kirk, who is part of RMIT University’s Centre for Urban Research, said while the structure plan addressed the issue of increasing tree canopy, it fell short of providing clear targets to ensure effective implementation, adding there was also a lack of “clear detail” of their greening and biodiversity policy.

“Biodiversity includes all of the birds and butterflies and bees and things that make up our neighbourhoods, and it would be really good if there was at least some consideration given to those things, particularly as we know that’s what creates these really liveable environments,” she told Southbank News.

Dr Kirk applauded the idea of creating linear parks and open spaces, noting it “it’s great to see that they are thinking about things like water, sensitive urban design and how that integrates and interplays with the greening – that will really dictate the success of those new green infrastructures.”

In relation to planning controls, much of the area’s existing commercial enterprise zoning will be maintained. However, a rezoning is proposed for the “City Rd Industrial Triangle” bounded by City Rd, Ferrars St and York St, which would change from an Industrial One Zone to a Commercial Two Zone “to support this area’s future growth and evolution as part of the broader South Melbourne Enterprise Precinct”.

Tony Baenziger, who owns architectural business Baenziger Coles on City Rd within the triangle, said while he was pleased to see the pocket incorporated into the plans, he was disappointed it would not include a residential component under a mixed-use zone. 

“We think it’s totally appropriate …it [residential] will go well with what is on either side of the wedge, with residential to the south and capital city zone to the north,” he said, speaking on behalf of a group of property owners.

“We need more residential, and I think we need something that promotes activity on the street rather than commercial which dies at night-time.”

“At the moment the need for business or commercial premises is not as great anymore with the work from home model.”

No changes are proposed to residential areas except for a “zoning anomaly” at 76-188 Bank St, South Melbourne (the former South Melbourne Butter Factory), which would be changed to a commercial one zone to “facilitate clear direction on future use and development, along with better supporting the role of South Melbourne’s activity centre”.

Cr Pearl encouraged the community to have their say on the structure plan, with public consultation proposed for February and March. 

City of Melbourne Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece commended the City of Port Phillip for the structure plan, and in particular for its “great initiative” for wanting to turn the “urban blight” of the West Gate Freeway undercrofts into new community spaces. •

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