Promenade park all set to go

Promenade park all set to go

By David Schout

It’s official — a new park larger than two basketball courts will be built along Southbank Promenade.

The City of Melbourne has signed off a “land swap” deal with developers to secure 1000 sqm of publicly-accessible green space facing the Yarra River.

As part of the deal, councillors at an August 31 meeting agreed to hand over a small 296 sqm parcel of land on Riverside Quay to developers, who plan to turn Esso House — the former home of ExxonMobil — into a 30-storey commercial building.

In return, developers have agreed to build the 1000 sqm park on land fronting Southbank Promenade, which will be handed over to the council upon completion.

Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said it was a terrific result.

“Judging by the extremely strong community response we’ve received for that new publicly-accessible parkland on the riverfront, this is going to come together, I think, beautifully for the city and more importantly the people of Melbourne,” he said.

The land granted to developers by the City of Melbourne was valued at $2.06 million, while the portion of Esso House transferred to them was valued at $3.75 million.

“This represents a good value proposition to council,” management noted.

Further, council management noted the parcel of land it was giving up on Riverside Quay “was not reasonably required for public purposes, nor is it likely to be required in the future”.

At this stage there is no date for when construction might begin.

The lack of open space in Southbank has long been an issue.

The suburb is the most densely-populated in Australia, and the dearth of nearby public areas has been the source of angst among local residents.

Greens Cr Rohan Leppert said the deal was hugely important.

“This land swap to enable greater community open space for the people of Southbank and the people of Melbourne is a terrific thing.”

The council also ensured that Inge King’s 1995 sculpture Shearwater II, a large river bird sculpture on Riverside Quay, will be retained during redevelopment work.

Cr Reece said ExxonMobil planned to sell the 7.8-metre-high sculpture in 2018, however, as reported by Southbank News at the time, the city was able to retain it.

“It’s a great outcome for lovers of Southbank Promenade, and given the sculpture is of a river bird, that’s the appropriate place for it to be.”

Cr Reece said $38 million in capital works had been dedicated to Southbank in 2021/22, a record total for the area.

In the council’s most recent budget, it allocated $20 million on new Southbank open space in the next 12 months.

The Deputy Lord Mayor said this investment, in addition to Southbank Promenade upgrades signalled a “great year” ahead for Southbank.

“It’s all coming together in a great way for Southbank at the moment.”

While the Southbank Residents’ Association (SRA) said it was highly supportive of the land swap and new open space, in a submission to the council, president Tony Penna said the process “had not been ideal”.

The SRA has been critical of the council’s communication of major Southbank-related projects for many years, which culminated at April’s Southbank Community Forum where Lord Mayor Sally Capp committed to improving consultation.

But Mr Penna said the SRA had been forced to rely on ineffective and “old-fashioned” methods of communication through public notices and “a notice on the door of a vacant building during lockdown”.

“It is somewhat surprising that during the notice period the City of Melbourne did not reach out to those who previously made submissions on this development and engage with them to explain the rationale, especially the context of the agenda item, minor though it is,” Mr Penna wrote.

“SRA is an active contributor to this council, and it is well-known we are an active and engaged community group. We are bamboozled that at minimum [the] council never considered to at least inform us.”

“But sadly, judging by past actions, we should not have considered it surprising.” •

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