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What’s behind the lights?

Fishermans freeze still thawing

05 Mar 2019

Fishermans freeze still thawing Image

By Sean Car

Future viability in Fishermans Bend has been called to question, based on a slow uptake in development since the introduction of the State Government's new planning framework last year.

Southbank Local News can confirm that of the 26 Fishermans Bend planning applications that were unfrozen by Minister for Planning Richard Wynne in October last year, only four amended plans have since been submitted.

It’s a fact that paints an uncertain vision for developers and policy makers alike, with both the City of Melbourne and the City of Port Phillip now understood to be exploring strategies for short-term activation in the precinct.

The decision to freeze the 26 applications came in February last year, with Minister for Planning Richard Wynne stating at the time it was a “necessary step” in order to protect Fishermans Bend for the future.

With the new Fishermans Bend planning framework legislated in October last year following four years of planning and consultation by the state government, the door was reopened to developers to resubmit under the new planning controls.

However, with only four of the 26 having submitted amended plans, the combination of a cooling apartment market, slow delivery of key infrastructure and rising land taxes is understood to be forcing a rethink from a number of developers.

A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) said it was working with applicants to revise the 26 applications to “align as best as possible” with the new planning controls. Of these 26, 14 are located in the Montague Precinct.

One such developer is Gurner, whose three-tower development at 2-28 Montague St is one of 22 yet to resubmit. Founder and director Tim Gurner told Southbank Local News there was no question the government’s decision to freeze development had had an adverse impact on Fishermans Bend.

“We have revised our plans for the project and have them ready to submit, however due to the incredible uncertainty in the precinct we have been informed that at this time we are not able to submit them,” he said.

“The entire catchment is now in limbo which has created a huge amount of uncertainty. This not only affects developers but cafe owners, small businesses and the wider community.”

Despite being located in the Montague Precinct, which is more viable due to its proximity to the CBD via existing tram routes and a new primary school and park, Gurner said all developers had been affected by the government’s “backwards” policies.

Former Liberal minister for planning Matthew Guy’s decision to rezone Fishermans Bend as capital city zone in 2014 has meant landowners are currently sitting on very valuable plots, many of which continue to collect rents that are almost matched in land taxes and council rates.

While few would question the community-driven approach of the Andrews Labor government to set about a consultative recast vision, developers say four years of planning uncertainty is now undermining those same community aspirations.

Minister for Planning Richard Wynne told Southbank Local News that the majority of applicants intended to submit revised plans and that his government made no apologies for curbing development in Fishermans Bend.

“We make no apology for putting a stop to the development free-for-all,” he said. “We’re getting the planning right and giving Victorian families a community that they can be proud of.”

“We’re making Fishermans Bend a community, rather than a concrete jungle, with schools, public transport and green open spaces to meet friends and kick the footy.”

However, without developer contributions and still no firm commitments to public transport, namely the delivery of Melbourne Metro 2, Mr Gurner said the government’s population targets for 80,000 residents and 80,000 workers by 2050 looked increasingly unlikely.

“Given the uncertainty and process undertaken by the government to date, there is no chance they will meet their population targets,” Mr Gurner said.

“The minister is increasingly focused on delivering social housing, however without development in general, none of the proposed social housing components can be delivered.”

“At Fishermans Bend the approach seems to be backwards and the government doesn’t seem interested in collaborating with developers to ensure these components can be delivered.”

The Property Council of Australia’s executive director for Victoria, Cressida Wall, said she believed that Fishermans Bend had suffered from shifting policy goal-posts for too long.

“It is critical that urban regeneration projects are considered in light of the proper integration of infrastructure and planning,” she said.

“In the context of Fishermans Bend, it is unlikely that the precinct will reach its potential until development is linked to the CBD by mass transit infrastructure, such as Melbourne Metro 2.”

While it has established a new governance arrangement, spearheaded by a new six-person development board, the government is still yet to release detailed plans for the five precincts, as well as a funding model for the public amenities.

Minister Wynne said that engagement on the development of the precinct plans for Montague, Wirraway, Sandridge and Lorimer would take place in the next few months. He also said the government was developing a comprehensive funding and finance strategy to deliver the framework by 2050.

This plan will consider a mix of funding sources, including an Infrastructure Contributions Plan to deliver essential infrastructure. He also said that work was underway on other significant “catalyst” projects including planning for public transport connections, a new community hospital, secondary school, as well as a number of projects in the Employment Precinct.

Fishermans Bend Business Forum executive officer David Weston said, given the current uncertainty, the government needed to work with landowners and businesses more actively to ensure its vision remained achievable.

“If development in Fishermans Bend isn’t going to progress in the short- to medium-term, then we need to be working with property owners so that the concept of urban renewal remains vibrant,” he said.

“We intend to work with the [Fishermans Bend] taskforce and the development board to continue to progress the view that the funding of public infrastructure may not totally be able to rely on infrastructure contribution plans if projects are delayed or deferred.”

City of Port Phillip Mayor Dick Gross stressed that, while council had no control over the ministerial development applications, it was not aware of any delays to the delivery of key infrastructure.

“Council is working closely with the state to identify what infrastructure is needed and when. Clearly the timely delivery of key infrastructure (such as public transport) is critical to quality development outcomes,” Cr Gross said.

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