A look at Fishermans Bend in 2020

A look at Fishermans Bend in 2020

By Sean Car

Southbank News caught up with Fishermans Bend Development Board chair Meredith Sussex last month to check in on how things in Australia’s largest-ever urban renewal precinct were shaping up for the year ahead.

A peninsula of land two-and-a-half times the size of Melbourne’s CBD, there has never been any doubting the monumental challenge of transforming Fishermans Bend from industrial precinct to a new city.

But with these challenges come incredibly exciting opportunities not only for Melbourne, but Australia. With four new mixed-use precincts and a world-leading Employment Precinct dedicated to creating the jobs of tomorrow in the likes of advanced manufacturing, engineering and design, the potential of Fishermans Bend is game-changing.

The recent political history is well-understood. Beginning under the former Liberal state government, planning got off to a false start under the leadership of then-Minister for Planning Matthew Guy. Rezoning the precinct to “capital city”, the precinct would see a flurry of private development applications submitted before planning of key infrastructure had begun.

A renewed focus on proper planning under the current Labor government beginning back in 2014 saw the assembly of a new ministerial advisory committee drive a recast vision for the precinct, bringing the community back into the picture.

However, with the new framework forecasting 80,000 residents and 80,000 jobs by 2050 finalised in 2018, many have questioned the progress since. With Fishermans Bend shifting from planning to a new priority precincts portfolio under Minister Gavin Jennings, recent efforts have seemingly moved away from urban renewal to job creation.

And while the state government recorded another election win largely off the back of a record infrastructure spend across the state, a ballooning net debt has followed, casting doubts on a much-needed rail connection to Fishermans Bend by 2025 as projected.

But Meredith Sussex, who has been at the coalface of Fishermans Bend since 2014, assured Southbank News that despite the state’s current challenges, her board had all the support it needed to carry out the vision.

“I think the commitment has been there,” she said “If you look at the school, the park, the secondary school, the community hospital. It’s very much on the agenda. And indeed, the purchasing of the GMH [General Motors Holden] site.”

“We know the government is financially constrained and we know that’s going to be even more tricky given the impact of the bushfires and we know what needs to happen. Our job is to get the funding and finance strategy up and the next level of the developer contributions plan in place and frankly, to engage the Commonwealth.”

With the University of Melbourne purchasing a large chunk of the GMH site for a new engineering and design campus, Ms Sussex said discussions with a second university, understood to be RMIT, rested on the delivery of a tram connection.

While the state government committed $5 million towards exploring options and a business case for a river crossing between Collins and Lorimer streets in last year’s budget, she said the board would like to see a firm commitment as soon as possible.

“With the tram it’s a question about when, not if,” she said. “The government has not made a firm commitment about when that will be but in the meantime it’s absolutely essential that the bus services and active transport be dramatically improved.”

Premier Daniel Andrews’ shock announcement of a more than $50 billion Suburban Rail Loop in 2019 left many wondering about when a train connection to Fishermans Bend would be delivered.

When Metro 1 is completed in 2025, it’s been widely suggested that tunnel boring machines should be immediately shifted to start work on Metro 2, linking Mernda to Werribee via Parkville and Fishermans Bend. It’s a project that many transport experts have deemed just as, if not more, crucial in the short-term for Melbourne than Suburban Rail.

However, Ms Sussex said government talks of a more recent proposal to build a tunnel underneath Sunshine as part of a new airport rail link had the Board more concerned.

“At the moment there is discussion around tunnelling under Sunshine and it is the board’s view that the tunnel through Fishermans Bend is an alternative to a tunnel under the Sunshine corridor,” she said.

“By taking the Werribee and Geelong trains off that route and bringing them faster into the city you can free up even more capacity on the Sunshine corridor, which already has enough capacity for the airport rail corridor.”

“Sandridge is the next office precinct for Melbourne and it has to have a rail connection. It is one stop from Southern Cross in the planning rail so that’s a real imperative. The other real imperative is that we’re talking about the Employment Precinct having 40,000 jobs and being one of the great design, engineering, advanced manufacturing centres in the world and we want to make sure that the people of the west have access to that in terms of jobs and that future as early as possible.”

“Our view is that the connection between Newport, the Employment Precinct, Sandridge and Southern Cross is absolutely essential to the future of Melbourne, and not just Fishermans Bend. That will allow more services from Werribee, fast services from Geelong as well as the connections that are essential in terms of the inner-city connections.”

Having looked to other employment and innovation clusters around the world such as MaRS Discovery District in Toronto and the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York, Ms Sussex said detailed strategic framing of the Employment Precinct was a high priority for 2020.

A key part of that process is continuing to foster the hundreds of innovative businesses already active in the precinct in addition to supporting the University of Melbourne’s effort to drive a co-location of research and vocation in the precinct.

“It’s how you attract a mix of research institutions, entrepreneurs, start-ups, scale-ups, venture capitalists and how you actually bring that together to do what we don’t currently do well which is commercialise the great research outputs of our institutions,” she said.

“We’re in the top five in the world in terms of research output but we’re in the bottom five for commercialising it and that’s what we’re addressing.”

Other key milestones for 2020 include finalising the all-important funding and finance strategy, reviewing and strengthening current governance arrangements and placemaking and community engagement in Montague.

While the uncertainty around public transport has meant a lessened focus on urban renewal in the more distant precincts of Wirraway and Sandridge, development activity in Montague, and to a lesser extent, Lorimer, continues to increase.

“In Montague in particular, the development is going gangbusters,” she said.

“We’re now into the next stage of placemaking in Montague and that will be very small things like naming the lanes, celebrating the heritage and the naming and communication of what Montague is. This involves the existing community, existing businesses and new community so that we really build on the strengths on the area.” •

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