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What’s behind the lights?

Southbank Residents’ Association

06 May 2020

Southbank Residents’ Association Image

Southbank comes together

By Tony Penna - President

It would seem that Australia is progressing well with our response to COVID-19, but sadly we have not been saved from attributed deaths. Any death is a tragedy. But it also has a toll on our health, especially our mental health.

While no doubt our community, as a whole, seems to be managing with the restrictions, it was great to see residents in our community embrace the lockdown in good spirit with a small musical “jam” from their balconies on one night over the Easter weekend.

From my Kavanagh St balcony, I could see a number of buildings engaging in the spirit by flashing their lights and cheering on those playing their music, which was not exclusively from one building. It was a community effort that seemed to be going viral from building to building. It was certainly a delight to see and if it lifted people’s spirits, then I hope to see it again.

The Lord Mayor Sally Capp reached out again to see how our community was faring last month, this time via a Zoom video call meeting. The main items I put onto her agenda that were affecting the wider community were construction noise from the amended construction hours and the quantity of hard waste on our streets. Whether they are programmed hard waste collections or illegally dumped, there are significantly larger amounts that usual and I have noted the contractors have not been able to clear it as efficiently as usual, among a few other items. Not long after this meeting I received a response from the Lord Mayor acknowledging these items.

Of particular note, there are an additional 20 compliance officers assigned to the monitoring of construction sites, so let’s hope we will see some better compliance there. If you need to report any issues with a construction site, please call 9658 9658.

Of significant interest to Southbank, was the approval of the 360-metre Beulah development on the BMW site. At the time of approval, it was only five weeks prior that this was being considered by the Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) for endorsement by council. Our members will be aware that we, Southbank Residents’ Association (SRA), made a submission to the committee in relation to this application.

In principle we endorsed the application as it complied with the planning scheme. Prior to our submission, the developer engaged with our committee to discuss its proposal and to give us a brief on what was to be expected. For a developer to reach out to the community during its deliberations for a new development is unprecedented and we certainly thank Beulah for considering the community. We hope this is just the start of a long relationship as construction begins.

I was shocked by how soon after the council’s FMC meeting this was endorsed by the Minister for Planning Richard Wynne. In my eight years as the president of SRA, I have never seen any application be approved within two months, as this one was. Notwithstanding, I am sure the developer would probably feel that overall the process was long and drawn-out as I know that has been in the works for quite some time. If the haste in the Minister’s approval is anything to go by, then it certainly highlights the concern the government has with the economy going forward owing to the COVID-19 problem.

However, I was saddened with the position of one of our television news networks. On the same day the announcement of the approval hit the media, I received a call from one of the mainstream TV news stations asking for a live cross for two of their news bulletins regarding this development and Southbank. After some prodding by the journalist, or maybe their assistant, they realised I was not against the development and that I had very little to object to. I was speaking highly of the proposal and what benefits there will be to the community, the impact the space will have on the public realm, its compliance with Council’s new (but yet to be endorsed by the Minister) C305 urban design guidelines in Southbank planning scheme amendment, and the list goes on. The person I was talking to then advised that I am probably not who they are looking for as they were hoping to find a critic of the development, of which they acknowledged they were finding very difficult. I asked what the problem was with doing a good news story about a development, which by all accounts, will be a good addition to Southbank. Considering the current sombre mood of COVID-19, I thought a good news story would be a welcome position, but it seemed not, so you didn’t get to see any live cross to myself representing Southbank and speaking about this new development. For the record, I did mention, that while there are a number of items that we would not have desired to see in the development, such as height (do we really need another 100-storey-plus high-rise?), it is not the developer that we can criticise and hold to account on this as they are merely working within the planning scheme that they have been told they must comply with. These are issues that need to be addressed with the Minister for Planning, which we have done in the past on numerous occasions, and not put onto a developer. But having said that, it is also rare to not see a developer push the boundaries of the planning scheme and ask for special consideration, which by all accounts, didn’t happen here, so another tick for this developer.

Keep up your social distancing and hopefully my next column I will be able to talk about how good it is (or soon will be) to meet our family and friends again, whether in our homes or at a restaurant •

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