Montague Precinct faces mammoth growth but without a plan residents say they are the ones to “suffer”

Montague Precinct faces mammoth growth but without a plan residents say they are the ones to “suffer”
Brendan Rees

Concerns are growing that residents are rapidly “suffering” from an avalanche of development in the Montague Precinct of Fishermans Bend as consideration for the community’s needs appear to dissipate.

Residents have watched on in astonishment as their neighbourhood has rapidly transformed into multiple high-rise construction sites in recent years with more projects still in the pipeline.

But without the release of the precinct’s draft implementation plan – which has put further public consultation on hold – questions have been raised about what lies ahead for the community’s future liveability including its amenity and social benefits.

As reported in the March edition of Southbank News, City of Port Phillip Mayor Marcus Pearl said the delay in the release of the plans had meant that planning was now occurring “concurrently” with rapid private development in the precinct.

A state government spokesperson said the draft Montague Precinct Implementation Plan would be released soon for consultation – at which point “residents, businesses and local community members will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the plan”.

But as development continued to ramp up in Australia’s largest urban renewal precinct, residents such as Helen Robertson feared their way of living would be forever compromised.

“We are the ones that suffer because we can’t get an on-street car park; we’re subject to this construction seven days a week, it’s hideous,” she said of her Normanby Rd neighbourhood.

“There are no planning permits that have been shared with us, there’s absolutely no consideration for the residents.”

Ms Robertson, who bought into the area three-and-a-half years ago, said she had “huge concerns”, “because we just don’t know what the plan is” which she considered “unreasonable” as ratepayers.

“We’ve got the 109 tram and there’s a 235 bus that goes along Williamstown Rd, but [for] that 109 tram you can sometimes wait four and five trams to get on because there are so many people moving into this area. There’s meant to be another tram; who knows when that’s going to happen.”

Ms Robertson’s concerns were shared by the former Montague Community Alliance convener, Trisha Avery, who said “the community are suffering because they have lost all faith in anybody ever asking them what they need rather than telling them what’s going to happen to them.”

However, the state government said it had made some significant investments in the area and delivered projects in partnership with the City of Port Phillip including Kirrip Park, South Melbourne Primary School and Port Melbourne Secondary College along with upgrades to local parks and streetscapes.

Among the plans approved by the Minister of Planning is for a 40-storey residential and office tower at 249-251 Normanby Rd, South Melbourne with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning currently considering further minor amendments to the plans.

Four mixed towers of 27, 29, 30 and 30 levels at 6-70 Buckhurst St have also been given the green light – with the site currently cleared.

In 2019, then Minister for Planning Richard Wynne further amended the permit for the Buckhurst St site to allow the temporary development of the northern half of the land for a four-level childcare centre.

Current proposed developments under consideration include a 20-level mixed use retail and residential tower 272-280 Normanby Rd, South Melbourne; and a place of assembly for audio-visual exhibitions and installations at 21 Meaden St, Southbank. 

At 15-85 Gladstone St, South Melbourne, the Minister approved a permit allowing a 27 storey, two 30 level towers with a four and six level podium containing about 700 apartments, as well as commercial space and 393 car spaces – with demolition of the site completed.

Completed projects in Montague include the high-rise Gravity Tower on the corner of Gladstone and Montague streets, Beulah International’s Habitus Townhouses at 10-16 Boundary St and BPM’s Nightfall on Gladstone St.

Fishermans Bend Development Board chair Meredith Sussex said a “huge amount” of public consultation was conducted before the strategic plan within the precinct’s planning framework were finalised by the state government in 2018 – “which is not substantially changing in the context of the implementation plan”.

“The implementation plan is about the very fine grain implementation arrangements focusing very significantly on the public realm and that plan is almost ready to go,” she said, which included consideration of pedestrian connections, bicycle access, and transport infrastructure.

“We certainly want to ensure we have an ongoing discussion with local residents and welcome feedback and comments in anyway at all.”

In terms of proposed development submissions received so far, Ms Sussex said her team was “delighted”.

“We’re getting some really high-quality applications from innovative and high-quality developers, and we’re really pleased with the way that’s going consistent with the planning controls and framework,” she said.

“Obviously in providing an assessment of the applications that are before us, the thinking we have done about the fine grain informs our advice on the approval or modification of planning applications.”

However, Dr Andrew Butt, an Associate Professor in Sustainability and Urban Planning at RMIT’s School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, said there were “some big movement challenges” facing Fishermans Bend.

“The major transport challenges for Fishermans Bend are going to become the most obvious problems with this site. And they’re not just about big investments like rail infrastructure, but they’re about making permeable and accessible places in a precinct which is dominated by a heavy traffic network and there’s got to be some investments in that,” he said.

“I get these are long processes and they take a lot of work, but this site in particular is a really important one. It’s so close to areas that people are keen to invest in but in some ways a long way away because of the difficulty of accessibility.”

Brendan Gleeson, professor of urban planning at the University of Melbourne, said he firmly believed that the state or local councils should tax some of the uplift in land values they will create through “upzoning”. 

“The community creates this betterment through planning and is entitled to recover at least some of it to fund social and environmental infrastructure,” he said. 

He also noted the structure plan allowed for “taller towers” in places, which he said should be minimised and the “heights specified and justified to prevent poor-quality overdevelopment”.

Southbank3006 residents’ group president David Hamilton said the lessons applied to Montague should be learnt from Southbank which was “abandoning the social development and the public infrastructure required to support a massive increase in population.” •

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