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Reece: key precinct needs a plan

10 Sep 2019

Reece: key precinct needs a plan Image

The City of Melbourne’s chair of planning Cr Nicholas Reece has started an important discussion around the future management of Southbank’s riverfront precinct between Southbank Promenade and City Rd.

Referencing the area incorporating Hamer Hall, Southgate, Riverside Quay and Freshwater Place, Cr Reece has flagged his intentions to establish a plan that manages and coordinates development in the precinct with all stakeholders.

He said that between its extensive public works program, which includes upgrades to Southbank Promenade and Southbank Boulevard, more private development and the state government’s transformation of the Arts Precinct, there was a lot on the horizon.

“In terms of the riverfront, we do know that there are a number of development applications that the city is likely to see over the next 12 months and that could include Southgate, ESSO House, the Beulah site and Queensbridge Hotel,” he said.

“That amounts to almost one kilometre of prime riverfront in the centre of Melbourne and that is something which the City of Melbourne will be looking very carefully at.”

“We’ll be doing everything we can to ensure that postcard view of the river and that precious promenade is protected and enhanced because it’s hard to think of a more important place in all of Melbourne.”

While the Southbank Structure Plan 2010 already addresses many of the issues Cr Reece is keen to manage, such as disconnection to the river, high-quality public realm, green space and unsustainable buildings, he said the riverfront required special attention.

The City Road Masterplan, which is now three years behind schedule, also provides an important foundation for addressing connectivity and a desirable public realm – areas Cr Reece said had previously been overlooked in Southbank.

“I think that Melbourne is famous for its streets, whether it’s the bluestone footpaths, street trees, high-quality street furniture and leading design in our public spaces and I think that, historically, Southbank has been underdone on that front.”

With Southgate’s owners ARA understood to be preparing its own new masterplan, ESSO House being recently sold and the Freshwater Place precinct expected to see a number of new developments, Cr Reece is keen to tie them all together.

“Any development applications will have to be appropriate for a river setting, will have to be mindful of the context in which they sit with the other buildings around them whether that’s the galleries or the parks and promenades,” he said.

“The city would certainly like to see more pedestrian links from City Rd through to the river’s edge to make it as porous and pedestrian-friendly as possible. If we and the developers get it right we can make that stretch one of the most beautiful river promenades in the world.”

While acknowledging that state government was largely responsible for managing development, as well as the Arts Precinct transformation through Development Victoria, Cr Reece the precinct would benefit with more open dialogue.

What shape this new planning initiative takes is still unknown but many stakeholders agree with Cr Reece in principle. Managing director of developer Beulah International Jiaheng Chan, whose development on the corner of Southbank Boulevard and City Rd is currently before the Minister for Planning for approval, suggested that the establishment of a special planning committee might be appropriate.

“A coordinated approach to the improvement of the precinct is key in the future success of the whole city and state,” Mr Chan said. “A master planning committee with representation from all key stakeholders and a robust consultation programme will lead to creative ideas for the improvement of the precinct.”

“We have commenced a similar process with neighbours but would happily play a leading role in any future committee. We think this will help to gather and focus all key stakeholders, opening up direct discussion with the right people to continually improve this important precinct.”

Southbank Residents’ Association (SRA) president Tony Penna said that there was good logic to Cr Reece’s vision for the precinct, and that residents looked forward to playing an active role in how the area’s future planning took shape.

“In principle SRA supports any such initiative,” he said. “Owing to the massive projects and expected upcoming works in Southbank, we question why it is only now that such an initiative is being spruiked.”

“Any such plan, however it may look, needs to ensure that all stakeholders have a say, especially the residential community. There are some real opportunities to bring all these projects together under one planning umbrella.”

“Southbank has experienced poor planning in the past, as evident in its lack of open space, oversubscribed community spaces and poor street level interaction. We would ask council to acknowledge this to give such an initiative the space it need to flourish.”

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