Never-ending works are “just the usual”
By Brendan Rees
Residents say they’ve yet to see “value for money” as works drag on with City of Melbourne’s problem-plagued project to transform Southbank Boulevard into people-friendly public spaces.
The $47m “greening” project – including the creation of five new public spaces and neighbourhood parks, as well as 300 new trees and 1.1km of new bikes lanes in the heart of the city’s Arts Precinct – has been beset by delays and disruptions since works began in July 2018 and which are likely to be prolonged well into next year.
However, in a sign of relief, Southbank News understands the council has ambitiously set a goal to wrap up the whole project by the end of this year but has allowed any further works to continue into 2022 – which they say would still be “on schedule” despite a completion date yet to have been announced.
Although repeated lockdowns have hampered the number of workers allowed on site, the council is confident it is “still on track to complete works on time”.
But with ongoing works having slipped 18 months behind schedule – after February last year was marked as an expected completion date – residents aren’t holding their breath the project will be completed any time soon.
Construction had been conducted in several stages before being broken up into sub-categories, providing no clear framework for residents and businesses.
In its latest update, the City of Melbourne reported works were “progressing well” with two neighbourhood parks on Southbank Boulevard.
A park between Moore St and Kavanagh St is expected to be completed by this month with finished landscape works including the installation of rocks weighing up to 20 tonnes and surrounding bluestone paving. One plane tree and 13 frontier elms have also been planted in garden beds.
A second park between Fawkner St and City Rd is also expected to open by November with bluestone walls and paving taking shape and a boardwalk also to be installed.
Meanwhile, the planting of 49 trees within the “Civic Space” has finished, including a Separation tree in the central terrace.
The Separation tree is a red river gum that was grown from a sapling of the original 400-year-old Separation tree at the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Once the neighbourhood parks are completed work will begin on a play space between Kavanagh St and Fawkner St with an open date set for 2022.
Southbank resident John Smith, who regularly walks by Southbank Boulevard, said he was surprised by “how open it still appears”.
“I was sort of expecting more trees, bushes, shrubs and less gravel areas,” he said.
“When you look at what appears to have been provided, where is the value for money? I think from my point of view it’s been mismanaged.”
Another resident David Hamilton said “one just hopes it gets finished soon because it’s taken so long”.
“It’s a long time in the making for a very simple piece of kerb and channel. When it’s finished it will be very pleasing to see,” he said.
“They’re working faster on the pop-up park at the [Queen] Victoria Market than they are on this.”
“It will be nice to finally get the neighbourhood back and finally get some grass back that was taken away.”
As first reported in the November 2020 edition of Southbank News, Mr Hamilton believed the total cost of the project had blown out to $52.5m after scrutinising council budgets.
He was also concerned traffic management had not been “very well designed” with the “potential for issues to arise” between cars, pedestrians and cyclists.
Southbank Residents’ Association president Tony Penna said he believed it would be at “least a couple of more years if not longer” for the project to finish.
He added the never-ending works had become “just the usual” and any disruptions during the extended lockdown was “probably negligible”.
Earlier this year Lord Mayor Sally Capp acknowledged the project had “taken far longer than expected” but it would be “worth the wait”.
Local residents Liam and Geraldine (pictured) told Southbank News this month that they were both “looking forward” to the park being completed.
“It’s really exciting to have this along the boulevard and next to our place. Obviously during lockdown you don’t have a lot of opportunities to travel so it’s good to have nature by our side in the bustling city life,” Geraldine said •