Construction shutdown halts works on Southbank Boulevard
By Brendan Rees
Work on the Southbank Boulevard project which has already faced delays and disruptions will resume after the construction sector was shut down for two weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The City of Melbourne said construction workers would be back on the tools “straight away” after the state government confirmed restrictions on the construction industry would be eased at 11.59pm on October 4.
The shutdown comes after concerns were raised about non-compliance of health orders within the construction sector across the state, and came on the back of two days of violent protests outside the construction union’s head office on Elizabeth St last month.
Work sites along Southbank Boulevard were left to sit idle throughout the shutdown, creating another setback for the $47m project which aims to create five new public spaces and neighbourhood parks, as well as 300 new trees and 1.1km of new bike lanes.
The works, which are now 18 months behind schedule, have become one of Melbourne’s most expensive capital works projects since construction got underway in July 2018.
In what began as stages and later sub-categories, there has been no clear framework for residents or businesses – with the project appearing no closer to completion and its budget having blown out by $12m following initial estimates it would cost $35m.
Southbank Residents’ Association president Tony Penna said while it was disappointing there had been a further delay, he understood health was a priority.
“I respect the decisions that the government is making to keep us all safe, and that’s got to outweigh my desire to have a park in Southbank,” he said.
But despite the two-week shutdown, Mr Penna said he had been told by the City of Melbourne that the current stages of the project were “still on schedule”.
“So, they’ve obviously come up with a plan … that would imply that maybe they were a bit above schedule where they were aiming to finish.”
But in terms of the whole project being completed this year, he believed “it’s not going to be done”.
“It’s disappointing all round. I don’t want to keep hashing on that, I want to say let’s just get on with it and that we can see the light at the end of tunnel.”
The City of Melbourne said it had allowed until 2022 to finish the project.
In its latest update, the council reported works were “progressing well” with two neighbourhood parks on Southbank Boulevard.
This included a park between Fawkner St and City Rd which was expected to open by November with bluestone walls and paving taking shape and a boardwalk to be installed.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp earlier this year said she understood many locals were “frustrated by the ongoing construction” and that it “has taken far longer than expected” but it would be “worth the wait”.
The ban on work sites was imposed after the state government expressed concern about multiple outbreaks of COVID-19 having been linked to construction.
In order to work onsite, construction workers will need to have received one COVID-19 vaccine dose.
Every construction site in Victoria must also have a designated COVID Marshal to ensure compliance with health orders.
Up to five workers and a supervisor will be able to work onsite for small scale construction projects, and large-scale sites can have up to 25 per cent of workers onsite.
Treasurer and Minister for Industrial Relations Tim Pallas said, “We’ve worked really hard with the industry to ensure they can reopen safely”.
“But the message is clear: we won’t tolerate it operating in a way that puts the rest of our community at risk,” he said.
Shadow Industry Minister Bridget Vallence said thousands of workers and subcontractors were “forced out of work because of Daniel Andrews and Labor’s failure to prepare the health system and manage the COVID crisis” •