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No pool in river strategy

08 May 2019

No pool in river strategy Image

The not-for-profit group Yarra Pools, which is proposing to construct a swimming pool in the turning basin at Northbank, has lamented its exclusion from the City of Melbourne’s draft city river strategy.

The strategy marks the first master plan of its kind for the city section of the Birrarung (Yarra River) and while it is largely ecologically focused, part of its remit seeks to recreationally activate the river’s banks.

In addressing the need for the strategy, the document outlines that with rising population comes additional demand on public space, recreation and other uses of the river. “Sustaining and improving people’s experience of the Birrarung has never been so important,” it states.

In a submission to council’s Future Melbourne Committee (FMC), which considered the draft strategy at its April 19 meeting, Yarra Pools co-founder Michael O’Neill expressed his disappointment at being excluded.

Speaking on behalf of Mr O’Neill at the meeting, WOWOWA Architecture director Monique Woodward, whose practice came up with the current design for the initiative, said Yarra Pools had already carried out significant consultation with the community.

“We’ve read the fabulous draft river strategy and are keen for there to be a greater emphasis for a swimmable river,” she said. “Wading gets mentioned, as does floating wetlands, softening the edge of the river, improving biodiversity and better linkages, which is very much in alignment with Yarra Pools, as is a focus on Northbank as a key area of investment.”

“We have already shared all of our research, user-needs analysis and findings of our business case, including expected patronage.”

“Our interests are completely aligned with yours and we believe Yarra Pools would sit perfectly and exemplify the fabulous work within this draft. We want our concepts to be included and explored with the community as part of the strategy finalisation.”

Cr Rohan Leppert responded to the submission very favourably, saying he hoped the council could learn a lot from the work done by the group in preparation of the final version of the strategy.

“The idea of a swimmable Yarra is such a beautiful idea that I think a lot of people can get their heads around, even if we’re not going to see that happening in the next year or two. It’s a beautiful ambition to work towards,” he said.

“Anything that works towards that goal can only be good for the health of the Yarra River as well, so I love the idea as well as the work that has been done by the Yarra Pools to work with community and traditional owners, which is something we’re yet to do as part of our engagement.”

The draft river strategy is underpinned by four key themes of culture (heritage and narrative), ecology (habitat and water), place (activity and character) and movement (journey and connection).

The strategy acknowledges Melbourne Water’s development of the Yarra Strategic Plan, stating that it would align with the plan and act as an advocacy document to ensure council has an agreed position on the central city section of the river.

The strategy focuses on 11km of the river and its surrounds stretching from the Swan St Bridge down to Docklands, and places a great emphasis on the development of the north bank of the river.

One of its three key priorities is a “Green Line” project, which will explore investment that clearly identifies and guarantees public realm civic quality and free movement along Flinders Walk and Banana Alley.

A council spokesperson explained that Green Line was simply a working title given to what is currently a conceptual project that is focused on improving public space and greening of the river’s edges.

Yarra River Business Association (YRBA) executive officer Tim Bracher said it welcomed the long-overdue focus on Northbank, and specifically how it could link the CBD to the river.

“There are many opportunities for developing Northbank as an attractive, vibrant space, but it will probably need to involve the private sector to fulfil many of them,” he said. “Developing quality public open space on the cold north side of the river is challenging.”

“While YRBA was not consulted in the development of the plan, the association looks forward to having valuable input during the consultation phase. The plan will provide valuable input to our August 15 ‘Yarra River Big Ideas’ Forum”.

The strategy’s two other key priorities include embracing Aboriginal culture and heritage and restoring the natural landscape.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said that, with parks and gardens rating as the number one most visited category in Melbourne’s visitor economy, the strategy was well overdue.

participate.melbourne.vic.gov.au/city-river-strategy

“We’ve lacked a long-term strategic focus for our river,” she said. “It’s about bringing more people to river with green and active edges. These spaces help with climate mitigation.”

“This strategy will help guide future projects and how they all fit together, which is something that is very welcome given the level of activity.”

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