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Once-per-decade strategy reveals renewed vision for Southbank

Once-per-decade strategy reveals renewed vision for Southbank
David Schout

Southbank’s local population will almost double by 2040 according to a once-per-decade planning blueprint that pledges to develop the local area into “truly walkable neighbourhood that provides a great environment for people”.

The City of Melbourne’s Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS), last updated in 2010, vowed to push for a continual growth of Southbank “as Melbourne’s premier arts precinct” and an “extension of the central city, focused on the Birrarung (Yarra River)”.

It promised to address what it deemed a poor quality, car-dominated public realm in certain areas of the suburb.

The updated city-wide vision, released by the council in July, focused heavily on huge projected growth west of the CBD.

Industrial and former industrial areas such as Arden, Macaulay, and Fishermans Bend will “accommodate a significant portion of the growth and change in the municipality over the next 20 years”.

It is proposed these areas will become “the new Fitzroy or Collingwood for the west of the city”.

“The growth of the municipality is now moving west, onto the lower, wetter plains,” the strategy stated.

The blueprint indicated that within Southbank itself, the council had forecast continual growth despite the impact of COVID-19.

Southbank’s 2020 population of 27,839 would almost double to 50,041 while worker numbers would also grow from 38,954 to 60,302.

This was despite the fact that many workers have shifted to a hybrid-style arrangement since the start of the pandemic.

Further, Premier Daniel Andrews declared in March that he believed a shift to hybrid working was “permanent” and did not believe things would return to how they were pre-pandemic.

Focus areas to 2040

Among a series of goals for Southbank within the next 20 years, the council noted three “key moves” that would shape the area.

These were the Melbourne Arts Precinct transformation, Southbank Boulevard and Dodds Street open space and public realm improvements, and delivery of the already-delayed City Road Master Plan.

It acknowledged two key local issues it would seek to address; a lack of open space and social infrastructure, and the “poor quality” public realm on City Rd, Kings Way and the West Gate Freeway that have a significant impact on pedestrian and cycling amenity in much of the local area.

The MPS promised a renewed focus on Southbank’s public realm.

“New local parks, enhanced streets and community infrastructure will deliver valuable new amenity and public open space for Southbank residents,” it read.

“New developments will be well-spaced and will provide through-block links to ensure Southbank remains walkable and inviting for visitors.”

Southbank is one of Australia’s densest suburbs, and the council pledged to enforced greater design standards in the decades to come.

It pledged that:

  • New developments would provide through-block links;
  • Towers would be well spaced to maintain views to the sky;
  • Buildings would respect viewlines to, and visual dominance of, key sites including the Shrine of Remembrance and the Arts Centre Spire;
  • New buildings within the Arts Precinct would demonstrate design excellence befitting of this area’s national significance; and
  • Streets and spaces would celebrate public art.

The City of Melbourne is also considering transforming dilapidated spaces under Kings Way on City Rd in Southbank into attractive and useable areas for people to visit.

Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said the council had plans to “reimagine” the undercrofts and would use the model of other international cities as inspiration.

He said this included investing in facilities like basketball courts, boulder climbing areas, table tennis tables, lush landscape architecture and planting.

“These spaces are dilapidated, derelict and devoid of people so we want to try and reinvent these spaces,” he said.

An overarching blueprint

While not introducing an entirely new vision for the future of the city, the updated MPS rather consolidates the council’s already-endorsed policies (from recent years) related to planning matters, such as the Affordable Housing Strategy and the Transport Strategy 2030.

Planning chair Cr Nicholas Reece said it was a “once in a decade opportunity to chart a course for what Melbourne will look like in the decades ahead.”

“We’re planning out to 2040,” Cr Reece said.

“Modern Melbourne, as we know it, is not just a city that happened by magic. It’s the result of very deliberate, and strategic, decision-making by the city and by the state. It’s the product of one good decision building on another.”

Cr Reece said that just like inner suburbs to the northeast of the CBD have markedly changed, so too will those to the west.

“Suburbs like West Melbourne will transition. They’ve got a strong industrial history — they’ll continue to be a place where a lot of people are employed but will also take on a much more residential character, becoming like the new Fitzroy or Collingwood for the west of the city.”

Deputy planning chair Cr Rohan Leppert said the strategy would play a hugely influential role in upcoming planning matters and meant that the “unholy friction” between local and state government planning agendas could be managed.

“[That relationship] can be managed in a way that there’s some certainty and some understanding by all parties in the planning system, especially local residents of the City of Melbourne, as to what the government’s agenda is and why, and how these different pieces come together,” Cr Leppert said. •

“If you think about how much the city has changed in the last 10 years, it’s that second role — not the ‘here’s our ambitious statement for the future’ — but how do we consolidate all of those policies and tell the clearest narrative that we possibly can about where development goes across the municipality and why.”

The council will now seek authorisation from the new Minister for Planning Lizzie Blandthorn before commencing public exhibition and will seek input from community members across the municipality.

“We’re expecting bouquets [but] we’re probably expecting brickbats as well — that’s the nature of community consultation and it’s so important that we get it on this exercise,” the Deputy Lord Mayor said. •

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