Restaurant approved on Yarra River

By David Schout

A floating restaurant along the Yarra River is set to become Southbank’s newest dining venue.

The 60-metre pontoon, to be situated between Sandridge and Evan Walker bridges, would feature two levels for dining and drinking.

Dubbed “Yarra Botanicals”, the unique new venue was endorsed by Lord Mayor Sally Capp who said it was important to “try new things” in the post-COVID era.

“We’ve shown that during the past 12 months in particular, that this is the time for us to be thinking differently and doing things differently as we revitalise our economy,” Cr Capp said.

The council’s planning chair Nicholas Reece said the new restaurant and bar would complement similar nearby drinking venues.

“I think Melbourne over the past decade or more now has done a very good job with Yarra River activation,” he said.

“If I think of Ponyfish [Island] and Arbory Afloat, these venues have become some of the most popular in our city, and I think they’ve made people think of the Yarra River in a different way.”

The venue would be managed by Australia’s second-largest pub operator Australian Venue Co, which operated a number of Melbourne pubs and bars, including Southbank’s Hopscotch.

According to the group, Yarra Botanicals was set to employ “at least” 70 people, would spend $1.75 million with local food and beverage suppliers each year, and generate visitors in excess of 200,000 annually.

Managing director Paul Waterson said the project had been five years in the making, and responded to a changing hospitality environment.

He praised the city’s outdoor dining initiative — recently extended permanently — as having “huge impact on the recovery of our industry”.

“We feel we have a really differentiated venue that will undoubtedly bring people back to the city,” Mr Waterson said.

“There’s no doubt that post the lockdown last year people are heeding the medical advice and preferring to dine in outdoor and semi-enclosed spaces.”

However, councillors weren’t united in approving the permit.

Greens councillors Rohan Leppert and Olivia Ball voted against the three-year application, arguing it did not align with wider plans for the river and brought about a “very significant precedent issue”.

Cr Leppert said the council’s Yarra River-Birrarung Strategy supported “temporary” activation along the river rather than “new, semi-permanent” activities.

The strategy, endorsed in 2019, noted the river was “first and foremost a public place for people to enjoy, with key views and waterfront features kept free of obstructions”.

Cr Leppert said referring to the strategy in support of the floating restaurant proposal was problematic.

“I just disagree that the Yarra River-Birrarung Strategy should be relied on as the basis to support a building and works permit for constructing on a pontoon on the Yarra. If it was on [Southbank] Promenade, absolutely,” he said.

Cr Leppert said he was worried subsequent decisions would refer back to this approval.

“We now need to think about the precedent. If we issue a building and works permit for a three-year set-up on the pontoon on the Yarra here, that then says we will have more and more of these. It also means that in three years’ time when we ask the applicant to seek another permit, because the permit will expire, we will have very little basis on which to say no … this is a very significant precedent issue that we’re talking about here.”

Construction on the pontoon restaurant was set to cost $4.1 million •

An artist impression of “Yarra Botanicals” - the newly-approved floating restaurant on the Yarra River.

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