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Tram funding drip feed

04 Jun 2019

Tram funding drip feed Image

By Sean Car

The state government has included $4.5 million towards a tram link to Fishermans Bend over the next two years in its latest budget.

With public transport the key component to unlocking Australia’s largest ever urban renewal zone and driving investment in the precinct, the absence of a significant funding boost for a tram has led to growing uncertainty within the business community.

The two-year funding commitment for a business case ($2m) and pre-construction works ($2.5m) means construction on the project, which includes plans for new tram bridge over the Yarra River, won’t commence until 2022. The government’s 2018 Fishermans Bend Framework forecasts a medium-term delivery of the tram by 2025.

With the precinct’s capital city zoning resulting in landowners forking out growing holding costs for sites, Fishermans Bend Business Forum (FBBF) executive officer David Weston said the slow delivery of public transport was of concern to business.

“Businesses in Fishermans Bend are concerned that the solution to public transport access is making the business environment uncertain,” he said.

“The State Budget only offers funding for a business case and early stage works. A full funding commitment to tram services is essential to maintain business confidence in the Fishermans Bend project.”

“Until there is a commitment to funding, businesses will be considering their options, which in some cases may mean relocation.”

The news follows a flurry of public activities in Fishermans Bend in May, with the City of Port Phillip, in partnership with the Fishermans Bend Taskforce, hosting the first Fishermans Bend Community Forum of the year at Toyota Headquarters on May 14.

In response to concerns such as those raised by the FBBF, it was here that City of Port Phillip CEO Peter Smith flagged the concept of “match making”, whereby council works with property owners to pair them with suitable tenants. Mr Smith said he had already been actively working with a number of owners on this basis to activate the precinct.

With the Fishermans Bend Framework forecasting 80,000 jobs by 2050, the state government’s 2016 purchase of the 37-hectare GM Holden site in the future Employment Precinct, as well as the delivery of public transport, are central to making good on its projection.

With the University of Melbourne having purchased 7.1 hectares of the site for its new engineering and design campus, and RMIT University understood to be in negotiations to follow suit, the government has formally branded Fishermans Bend as a “priority precinct”. With a focus on advanced manufacturing, the area is earmarked to become a national employment and innovation cluster (NEIC).

Minister for the new priority precincts portfolio Gavin Jennings told Southbank Local News that the budget also included $25 million for planning across all priority precincts, which also includes Arden, Parkville, Sunshine and the Richmond-to-Docklands corridor.

“The budget allocated $25 million to support planning and delivery across the priority precincts portfolio, and to leverage investment and activity of government and partners,” Mr Jennings said.

While the government wouldn’t disclose how much of this would be directed towards Fishermans Bend, the funding will continue to support the efforts of the likes of the Fishermans Bend Development Board and the Taskforce.

The budget also states that the new Fishermans Bend Secondary School would be open by 2022, while it is also in the process of finalising a site for a new community hospital, which is understood to be in the Wirraway Precinct.

Despite plans to open its new engineering campus in the “early 2020s” to around 8000 new students, the University of Melbourne’s vice-chancellor Duncan Maskell welcomed the $4.5 million investment towards the tram link.

“This investment is strongly supported by the University of Melbourne,” he said. “Public transport will play a vital role in realising Fishermans Bend as a sustainable, connected and thriving innovation precinct that the University of Melbourne is excited to be a part of and help bring to life.”

A tram route connecting Collins St to Hartley St in Fishermans Bend via a new tram bridge is still understood to be the government’s preferred option. Residents in Yarra’s Edge in Docklands, who are against the tram bridge, continue to lobby government to explore alternative routes.

City of Port Phillip Mayor Dick Gross said that the $4.5 million would investigate options for the potential tram route, including the possibility of a river crossing and potential corridors along Turner and Plummer streets. The state budget did not include any funding for Metro 2.

The state government is expected to release its neighbourhood precinct plans, as well as its finance plan for Fishermans Bend, within the coming months.

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