Lord Mayor says promenade delays “really unacceptable”, admits red stairs “look tired”

David Schout

Lord Mayor Sally Capp has slammed Southgate redevelopment delays and admitted it was a “misstatement” to say Southbank Promenade works were finished.

Developer delays halting Southern Promenade upgrades have been slammed as “really unacceptable” by Cr Capp, who flagged the potential removal of the area’s red stairs amphitheatre.

At a Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting held at Southbank in November, the busy strip was a significant topic of discussion as the Lord Mayor was also forced to admit the City of Melbourne had made a “misstatement” when declaring the promenade works complete.

Revitalisation works on the promenade, which has not had a major upgrade in more than 25 years, were originally planned to commence in early 2020 but were pushed back on numerous occasions before eventually starting in April 2022.

Initial works between Princes Bridge and Evan Walker Bridge – including new seating, lighting and trees – have concluded, however the timing of upgrades to the remainder of the promenade remains uncertain.

The council plans to wait for the redevelopment of restaurant and shopping centre Southgate before commencing with stage two works.

However, Cr Capp revealed that discussions with Southgate’s management ESR Australia, which is yet to announce when it expects to begin its redevelopment, had revealed unsatisfactory outcomes.


Caption: Lord Mayor Sally Capp, pictured with Cr Davydd Griffiths, has admitted it was a "misstatement" to declare works along the promenade to Queensbridge Square "complete".


“The remainder of Southbank Promenade upgrades between Evan Walker Bridge and Queensbridge St was paused for the redevelopment of Southgate works, due to resume following the developer indicating that they’re going to get on with their project. However, we have understood that those delays are really unacceptable,” Cr Capp said.

With no indication yet from the developer, stage two works on the promenade were likely to be several years away from completion.

Yarra River Business Association executive officer Tim Bracher said the delays required a proactive approach from the council, which could not simply wait and hope.

“We’re told that the rest of the promenade [work] is on hold, pending the completion of three key private developments, which sounds a very sensible approach until you realise with some background knowledge that those three developments could take up to a decade to finish,” Mr Bracher told councillors at the November 21 FMC meeting.


Now, we just can’t wait that long on the promenade, given the importance of the precinct to Melbourne’s image.


“Could I respectfully suggest that council takes a different approach? So instead of waiting for the private sector to determine when they are ready to proceed and finish, could we respectfully suggest that the council proceeds ASAP with the much-needed refurbishment of the promenade and then require any developer who needs to disturb that new promenade to reinstate exactly to the quality and standard?”

“So, in other words, instead of sitting around waiting for the private sector to get their act together, let’s get the public stuff done and then make the private sector pay for any disturbance they need to make on that promenade.”

However, the council has since told Southbank News that stage two works were proceeding as planned, and that no advancements had been made.

ESR Australia did not say whether the prospect of footing the bill for future restoration works of the promenade, should the council opt to proceed with stage two works, had been raised as a possibility.

Cr Capp apologised for public statements indicating the promenade works were complete.

“It was a misstatement to say that we’d completed all of those works through to Queensbridge Square. It was really the fact that we completed the works to Evan Walker Bridge. Thank you for picking us up on those public statements,” the Lord Mayor said, after a submission from Southbank Residents’ Association president Tony Penna.


Lord Mayor says red stairs “look tired”, flags removal

The November 21 meeting held at The Opera Centre in Southbank (the last “community” FMC assembly before all meetings revert back to Town Hall from 2024) also saw Southbank’s infamous red stairs amphitheatre under the gun.

Mr Bracher argued the Queensbridge Square landmark was fast becoming an “eyesore”.

“It is rather unsightly for Melbourne’s key tourism precinct,” he said.

“It is symptomatic of the general marked decline in the presentation of the public realm in this precinct in the Yarra River precinct.”

Cr Capp agreed that the area was in need of revitalisation.

“Most of us [councillors] are in and around Southbank all the time so we’re very aware of the fact that the stairs and that precinct could do with some love,” the Lord Mayor said.

“The team have been doing things like repairing it when cladding seems to come away or repainting more recently, but ultimately that piece of infrastructure, the red stairs, look tired one way or another, even with a ‘zhooj’, they look tired.”

Cr Capp said she was in favour of removing the stairs altogether.

“I’d love to know how much it would cost just to take them away, and open it up so that, you know, we see the streetscape and it wouldn’t be such a barrier potentially. But I know from speaking to our CEO just now, that we’ve got some capacity to actually revisit plans for that area beyond repair [works].” •

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