Renewed optimism for Fishermans Bend in 2022 and beyond

By Sean Car

While there is still a very long way to go in realising the full ambition of Australia’s largest ever urban renewal precinct in Fishermans Bend, anyone who thought that the project had stalled during COVID would be mistaken.

It’s been well highlighted over many years that the state government aspires for 80,000 residents and 80,000 workers in Fishermans Bend by 2050 – forecasts, which 29 years from now, seem a long way away given the current rate of development.

Speaking at a Fishermans Bend Business Forum get together on November 25 at the Port Melbourne Soccer Club – the first in-person meeting the forum has held in some time due to COVID – Fishermans Bend Development Board chair Meredith Sussex said “these things tend to take about 30 years”.

“There is a lot going on in Fishermans Bend. There is activity being driven across a huge variety of sectors and locations. But this is only the beginning,” she said.

“The intention with Fishermans Bend is that it be basically 75 per cent completed by 2050 and if you think that’s 30 years from now, think about the fact that it’s taken that long to get to where we are now from where we started with Docklands. Docklands started about 30 years ago and that’s how long these things take.”

As Ms Sussex mentioned in her address to the forum, public transport has long been central to unlocking the full potential of Fishermans Bend given the sheer size and its disparate location from the CBD.

Development in Montague has exploded due to the fact that it, in many ways, doesn’t really feel part of Fishermans Bend given its prime South Melbourne location with direct access to the CBD and Southbank via the existing 96 and 109 tram routes.

Ms Sussex also noted the success of Montague was off the back of “catalyst” infrastructure, including the new Kirrip Park and primary school, and was currently the subject of 28 development approvals and applications.

“So, 10,000 new dwellings and 100,000 square metres of commercial is in the pipeline [for Montague]. It’s huge stuff. Huge, huge,” she said.

Ms Sussex also noted that Montague was drawing strong interest from the build-to-rent market due its location and strong mix of community infrastructure.

But the remainder of Fishermans Bend hasn’t been developing at anywhere near the same rate as Montague due to the unanswered questions around public transport – namely new tram and train corridors to go deeper into the heart of the precinct.

A funding commitment to transport from the state government continues to elude Fishermans Bend, with this year’s state budget only including a further $15 million over two years towards the next stage of planning for long-term transport links. This also includes funding to support further bus services.

But while the government remains tight-lipped on any future commitments for now, stakeholders would have been somewhat buoyed by last month’s report in the Herald Sun claiming that Metro 2 could be operational by 2041, according to government documents.

The underground rail project would see Fishermans Bend connected to the city and the west via Clifton Hill to Newport with two new stations at Sandridge and the Employment Precinct.

The other positive news to recently emerge from Fishermans Bend is that the long-awaited detailed precinct plans for Montague, Lorimer, Sandridge and Wirraway are due to be released for public consultation in the new year.

Southbank News reported in July last year that, according to former City of Port Phillip Mayor Bernadene Voss, the plans were already finished and were being held back from the public due to COVID and local government elections.

But with the worst of COVID seemingly behind us, the Fishermans Bend Taskforce and the Development Board are expected to soon begin consulting on the plans, which map out fine-grain details for community infrastructure in the four neighbourhood precincts.

“The extent of change that’s happening in Montague, highlights the importance of completing the sort of detailed planning work of public realm, open space and infrastructure,” Ms Sussex said.

“That’s a key priority for the board and the taskforce as we head into 2022 and obviously now that we’re through the back end of COVID, we’re looking to engage much more with local businesses and local communities to engage in the discussion around that work.”

However, travelling deeper into Fishermans Bend to the Employment Precinct – centred around the former General Motors Holden (GMH) site on Salmon St – many continue to wonder what the “jobs of tomorrow” will be.

The University of Melbourne’s investment in the precinct for its new engineering and design campus, due to open in 2025, has been hailed as the centrepiece for driving 40,000 jobs to the National Employment and Innovation Cluster (NEIC) by 2050.

This cluster, as outlined in the government’s recent Advancing Manufacturing – the Fishermans Bend opportunity statement, will be based on jobs in “advanced manufacturing, engineering and design”.

In May this year, the government announced a $179.4 million funding package for the first stage of the precinct’s renewal over three years. The government is also riding on the back of existing large employers in Fishermans Bend, such as Boeing, Siemens and the Australian Department of Defence.

“Fishermans Bend has for generations been synonymous with Victorian manufacturing and its importance to the state and jobs will only grow,” a state government spokesperson told Southbank News.

“We are working closely with industry, institutions, investors and other stakeholders, including the University of Melbourne and those already based in the precinct, as we move forward.”

While Fishermans Bend offers plenty of opportunities, it’s the finer detail many will be keeping a close eye on into the future. What will set Fishermans Bend apart from the rest of the world in attracting large companies to move their businesses to the precinct?

As Ms Sussex pointed out, with most of the land in the precinct being privately owned, it makes the challenge of creating a “liveable, sustainable, excellent area to live and work”, a “particular challenge”.

“This is hard to do it well, but we are well on the way to the plan,” she said, while adding the board was seeking a “new level of commitment from the Commonwealth Government”.

The City of Melbourne, which governs the Employment and Lorimer precincts of Fishermans Bend, last month endorsed plans for the “gateway to GMH” along Turner St, which will see a greener, more pedestrianised and cycling focused public realm created.

While it might seem a small development, Ms Sussex said the planting of more than 200 trees and shrubs along Turner St represented a significant step in Fishermans Bend’s journey •

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