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Meet the voices of Montague

11 Aug 2016

Meet the voices of Montague Image

By Sean Car

Montague Community Alliance founders Patricia Avery and Gary Willis have been part of the driving force behind seeking proper planning for the Fishermans Bend urban renewal precinct.

Montague, which roughly borders City Rd, Whiteman St, Normanby Rd and Boundary St, was the first precinct in Fishermans Bend to see cranes rise as development gets underway on a number of projects.

Having moved to their Gladstone St home nearly four years ago, Patricia and Gary said they had no idea about the battle they were in for.  

“We actually bought it and signed the contract on July 5, 2012 and on July 12 Matthew Guy zoned it as a capital city zoning, roughly five days after we bought it,” Trisha said.

“We were very optimistic and didn’t realise that capital city zoning meant that we wouldn’t be communicated with in any way.”

Former Liberal planning minister Matthew Guy’s rezoning of Fishermans Bend led to a flurry of building approvals prior to the election of the Labor Government in 2014.

Unfortunately for incoming planning minister Richard Wynne and locals such as Patricia and Gary, a majority of those approvals were rushed in Montague and it has since been a game of catch up for community planning.

Trisha said alarm bells had started ringing in 2013 after learning about an eight-storey building being granted approval only a few doors from their home.

“We don’t get any local papers here because we’re not seen as a distribution area so I walked up Bay St and picked up the local Leader,” she said.

“I read on the front page that there was going to be an eight-storey building built four doors away from us, which came as a terrible shock.”

In a bid to find out what exactly was going on in their neighbourhood, the pair organised a community meeting soon after and were overwhelmed by how many of their neighbours were also seeking information.

“It was actually packed, which was a surprise to us all for such a meeting because we had no president or anything,” Gary said.

“I think it was more curiosity than anything else because everybody was in the dark a little bit about what was going on and so everybody turned out to find out about it.”

As a result, the Montague Community Alliance was formed. Convened by Patricia, the group was established to advocate for proper planning, heritage preservation and, most importantly, open a dialogue between government, developers and the community.

“I think what we want is to be involved with the community of developers, funders and government so that there’s a sense that we can all come together and not be in any way negative,” Patricia said.

“Nobody is interested in being oppositional. We’ve all gone past that. But it’s a question of how can we work with people?”

While the other Fishermans Bend precincts are largely vacant brownfields sites, Patricia said the current problem was trying to shift the perception that Montague was merely a continuation of Southbank.

“In the end it is really about recognising that we’re not a brownfields site. We are a vibrant, alive, day-to-day, 24-hour precinct that’s already alive,” she said.

“That view of the other precincts is much more accurate because they are brownfields sites. People moving and selling their buildings because they are massive footprint sites.”

“Montague is absolutely different. It’s part of the old Emerald Hill ward. We’re the oldest part of Melbourne here really.”

While the pair both agreed that communication had improved with council and under the current state government, they said Labor’s latest recast vision for Fishermans Bend still fell short of the mark.

And unlike other precincts, they say lack of open space is not the biggest concern.

“Ironically, people are always leaning on me to make a fuss about open space but I can tell you that’s not what people are concerned about here,” Patricia said

“I think that the recast vision is fabulous given that it’s 50 years in the future!” she said. “It doesn’t talk about the next 12 months so I think it’s fabulous but only in the future.”

Having helped form the South Port Urban Responsible Renewal (SPURR) community group, Patricia also represents Montague as part of the Fishermans Bend Network (FBN).

She said, since forming the alliance, the group had made some inroads, including saving a number of historic bluestone alleyways from being destroyed and improving dialogue with council and the government.

However, she rejects the idea that residents and workers were sitting on valuable sites and could easily sell up and move on if they wished to.

“People feel that we’re all holding on to valuable properties but we’re not,” she said. “Most of our footprints are very small.”

“That’s not how we see it. It’s our community. It’s our home and they’re our businesses. So it’s not like everyone’s going to say ‘let’s get out of Montague and sell it to developers’.”

And while there is still a lot of work to do, Gary said they loved their neighbourhood and were determined to ensure that poor planning didn’t tarnish its character.  

“We love the location,” he said. “I’ve come to know a lot of the locals around here and it’s just the detail, there’s lot of infusions of detail. There’s stuff that you don’t know, so it’s a really rich tapestry.”

As a means of helping provide the Montague community with a voice, the Southbank Local News will now be extending its distribution into the entire precinct.

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