Mayor pushes for the release of Montague plans

Sean Car

City of Port Phillip Mayor Marcus Pearl has ramped up pressure on the state government to release the long-awaited Montague Precinct plans for community consultation.

Gateway Ward Cr Pearl told a Fishermans Bend Business Forum (FBBF) event at the Woolworths Centre on March 3 that the release of the plans was crucial for both local government and developers to “get on with analysing and making investments”.

Speaking alongside panellist and Fishermans Bend Taskforce director Tania Quick, Cr Pearl said the delay in the release of the plans meant that planning was now occurring “concurrently” with rapid private development in the precinct.

“We need to ensure we have infrastructure backing those plans, and we need to have make sure we have the funding and finance models, and we need to make sure we have governance,” Cr Pearl said.

Responding to a suggestion that the two local councils governing Fishermans Bend – the City of Port Phillip and the City of Melbourne – seemed disengaged from the urban renewal project, Cr Pearl said, “I can see why some people feel that way.”

“Internally, we’re very far from disengaged, but it’s fair to say there’s a lot of things we’re waiting on,” he said.

“There’s been periods of fits and starts in Fishermans Bend. It’s now nearly a decade since the rezoning.”

“From our point of view, the amount of time that was spent by councillors analysing this issue and advocating for this issue in the last council was disproportionate to anything else, and we invested heavily in it intentionally.

“That is sustained in this council, but it’s fair to say we’re obviously waiting for some things to happen which we’ve been prepared for for some time, particularly the Montague Precinct Plan, which we would like to see.”

While the development of the other three mixed-use precincts in Fishermans Bend – Lorimer, Sandridge and Wirraway – hinges largely on the delivery of public transport, the Montague precinct continues to move at a much faster pace.

Fishermans Bend Development Board chair Meredith Sussex told Southbank News last year that private development in Montague was “booming”, largely off the back of existing tram routes and catalyst infrastructure in Kirrip Park and South Melbourne Primary School.

While former City of Port Phillip Mayor Bernadene Voss called for the release of the plans in June 2020, proclaiming to Southbank News that they “are done”, the state government has since held back their release for community engagement due to COVID-19.

Ms Quick reiterated this at the forum on March 3 but said the community could expect to see the plans this year.

“We have had a little thing called COVID,” she said. “But we are expecting that over the course of this year there will be a number of key things coming out for community engagement, including the Montague Precinct Plan, infrastructure funding strategy, precinct plans for the National Employment Innovation Cluster, as well as a number of other policy documents.”

Ms Quick said a major current priority for the taskforce was “about partnerships and working really closely and really carefully with the local councils.”

While Cr Pearl said the council supported current governance arrangements in Fishermans Bend, led by the Development Board and the taskforce, which sits in the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR), he said it was only as good as the “framework it’s operating under.”

He said the success in the early delivery of catalyst infrastructure in Montague was in part due to the fact that “council had some skin in the game.”

“We certainly put in a better partnership approach with that building [the school] and the open space and traffic management components of that project I think was a lot better thought through because council was involved at the start,” Cr Pearl said.

 

The governance model is only as good as the framework that it’s operating under so the importance of releasing the precinct plans and ensuring we have certainty around that will determine what the governance framework looks like.

 

“We have an official council position that we want local involvement in the governance structure. We think councils are important to that.”

Push for speed limit reduction on Williamstown Rd

In response to growing concerns surrounding the safety of students travelling to the recently completed Port Melbourne Secondary School, taskforce director Tania Quick told the forum that VicRoads had agreed to reduce the speed limit on Williamstown Rd.

However, the Department of Transport (DoT) confirmed with Southbank News that Ms Quick had, in fact, been provided incorrect information and that it had no current plans to reduce the speed limits.

“Keeping all road users safe is our number one priority, and we are always exploring ways to make our roads safer – including Williamstown Rd,” the spokesperson said.

“We will continue to monitor traffic and safety at this location.”

The new secondary school opened to students on Graham St last month across from the new Woolworths Centre on Plummer St which opened in 2021, with both developments causing increased traffic and safety issues in the precinct.

This formed a key topic of discussion at last month’s forum, and while speed limits won’t be reduced along Williamstown Rd at least for now, it has highlighted a desire for change from the local community.

“I’m a local resident, I know what it is like to cross that road with children as well. That’s [reducing the speed limit] a really important component,” Ms Quick said.

In response to a number of concerns raised about near-misses surrounding the school and the Woolworths car park, Mayor Pearl said traffic flow along Plummer St had increased “at a rate that we didn’t predict a few years ago.”

“With the [Port Melbourne Secondary] school here, we don’t have a bus pull-in zone, we don’t have crossings on Williamstown Rd and the council is now retrofitting those pieces of infrastructure, which we will do, but it’s fair to say we should have done that a couple of years ago in partnership with the state,” he said.

“I think it’s a bit of a wake-up call for council to make sure we’re being proactive in that process.”

While Cr Pearl said the council was currently reviewing its traffic surveys, Ms Quick said pedestrian crossing upgrades, widening of footpaths and installation of safe bike lanes were being looked at “as part of the broader infrastructure planning.”

Parking “catch 22”

Speaking at the forum, a local business owner captured the frustration of many others currently operating in an “area of transition”, as the issue of paid parking amid a lack of public transport continues to cause headaches in Fishermans Bend.

While Mayor Pearl said the council had sought to “get the balance right” between residents and the needs of people who work in the area, Ms Quick said more apartments would provide “more and more opportunities for people to live and work in this precinct.”

Cr Pearl said, “There’s a lot of focus in Fishermans Bend on the residential component in the future, but what’s important is that we maintain the commerce component and those high-paying jobs in this local area. This is where the conflict happens with parking because these people drive in for work.”

But one local business owner said he believed there was “a bit of misalignment”, stating his tenants were being forced to look elsewhere while he was paying increased rates and land taxes in a capital city zone.

“We have around 600 people coming in. We don’t have enough parking on site, so they’re forced to park on the street and risk getting a fine or having to move their car every few hours,” he said.

“People are saying, ‘there’s no public transport, no car parking, I don’t want to work here’.”

Cr Pearl responded, “We don’t always get it right and the changing balance of those parking spots we’re open to review them periodically and the right time for that is at the end of the year. If there are situations where it’s a huge disincentive for people to come work here that’s something we’d like to rectify.”

Ms Quick said it was about “the balancing of the long-term vision and the challenge of managing now” in what was a 30-year program.

“The precinct doesn’t work without public transport,” she said.

“Where’s the tram?”

The delivery of public transport in Fishermans Bend remains the key to unlocking the precinct’s full potential, but the community continues to wait patiently for a major announcement from the state government.

In the short to medium term, a tram line over the Yarra River was originally forecast in the Fishermans Bend Framework for completion by 2025, but Ms Quick said the government was now looking beyond 2025.

“What we have seen in the precinct is a shift from the impact of COVID and certainly the levels of development construction confidence, our projections are telling us that there might be a further staggering of that infrastructure,” she said.

“I can’t tell you what the recommendations from the DoT will be once the feasibility work has been done in terms of how it will be delivered, but there is a commitment in the framework.”

Bernadene Voss, now a member of the FBBF that moderated the event, preluded discussion around public transport by saying, “we don’t want another Docklands”, and that the community feared the tram “was not happening”.

Mayor Pearl urged the community to make the topic of a tram bridge a “big political issue” come the next election.

“What we need is help from people like you,” he said. “The big political issue is where that tram crosses the river. So, any conversations you can have with local MPs about where you feel that should cross the [Yarra] river are important.”

Cr Pearl also added that the City of Port Phillip was working in coalition with neighbouring councils, including the Cities of Melbourne and Hobsons Bay, to sell the high-speed Metro 2 connection to state and federal governments as a project of “national importance”.

Metro 2 would see an underground train servicing Fishermans Bend from Newport to Clifton Hill, which Cr Pearl said would have unparalleled economic benefits to the city and Victoria.

“What I’m trying to do in partnership with the surrounding councils particularly Hobsons Bay, etc., is to work in coalition to sell this project of national importance and particularly compare it to other Metro projects that don’t have anything like the economic payback that this does,” he said.

“From a society point of view, it’s amazing, and from an economic point of view, it has a 100-year benefit, which is unbelievable in terms of most economic models.” •

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