Southbank Boulevard’s $8m blowout for city’s most expensive park
By Brendan Rees
The cost of the problem-plagued Southbank Boulevard project has blown out by $8 million while new green spaces have been described as no more than the length of a cricket pitch.
The new figure was revealed in the City of Melbourne’s audit and risk committee’s 2020-21 annual report last month, which was also considered by councillors at their October 26 meeting.
After being approved in 2017 as a $34 million project, the now $47-million-costed “greening” aims to create public spaces and neighbourhood parks.
But it is several months behind schedule after facing a number of delays and disruptions since works began in July 2018 and is now expected to be completed by mid-2022.
It’s one of the most expensive capital works projects in the city’s history – with Lord Mayor Sally Capp having earlier this year conceded that “we know it has taken far longer than expected” and the council “had learned a lot during this project”.
In its annual report, the audit and risk committee stated the project had faced “significant cost overruns in excess of $8 million” and had identified improvements.
“With stages two to five of the project still to be completed at the time, it was a sensible decision to use stage one as an opportunity to identify key learnings, bearing in mind that significant expenditure was still to be incurred for the later stages,” it said.
However, the report noted at the time of the internal audit, the council’s management team had “already implemented significant improvements to its major project management framework following the challenges with stage one”.
“The [council’s] internal audit review did identify additional improvements, and these were accepted by management and have been implemented,” it said.
In a statement, Cr Capp said the project was a “significant transformation” for Southbank Boulevard – providing 1.75 hectares of new open space for residents and workers.
“We recently opened the new neighbourhood park between Moore and Kavanagh streets, which is already being well used by locals and their dogs,” she said.
“Another neighbourhood park between Fawkner St and City Rd is scheduled for completion by December. The new playground being delivered between Kavanagh St and Fawkner St won’t be far behind.”
“Prior to COVID-19, Southbank was our most densely populated suburb with more than 20,000 residents and 50,000 office workers.”
“It’s vital we create new public open space in the precinct to help maintain Melbourne’s world-class liveability for locals, workers and visitors. The new open space in Southbank Boulevard also complements the Arts Precinct.”
Southbank Residents’ Association president Tony Penna the cost blowout was a “significant surprise”.
“It is disappointing to hear that,” he said. “We just want to see the project finished now. It’s almost there, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Long-term Southbank resident David Hamilton said he was disappointed by the progress of the project, saying “it looks nice but the functionality people might have been hoping for” may not have lived up to their expectations.
“This project has put down more bluestone, boulders, and gravel than it has grass,” he said. “There’s lots of seats – it looks like somebody got a job lot on street furniture and just scattered it everywhere.”
Mr Hamilton, who lives close to the construction zone, has become tired of the delays, saying he would like to see it finished as workers were still “fiddling around”.
“We’ve got high expectations of the final section - they might actually provide a decent patch of grass.”
However, another resident Mem Aziz said the new green spaces were “ever so important” for Southbank, which provided a “beautiful environment”.
“When you walk down Southbank Boulevard and you hit City Rd, it’s a complete concrete jungle, there’s nowhere for people to go,” he said.
“To bring back these greeneries and rocky areas and so on is such an important asset for the whole of Melbourne.”
“Each of those little spots are part of a key jigsaw puzzle and you don’t want to take that little piece away.”
“And of course, it’s iconic for our tourism because we are renowned as one of the best locations for people to travel to.”
During November, work on the neighbourhood park between Fawkner St and City Rd will include the installation of a steel walkway through the park, irrigation works and preparation of garden beds for planting.
Since March, the council has planted more than 150 trees along Southbank Boulevard with a variety of species.
The City of Melbourne said it had updated its project management framework over the past six months to “guide our major and complex projects through their lifecycle”.
“The framework includes learnings from various projects including Southbank Boulevard,” it said •
Caption: Resident Mem Aziz enjoys one of the new open spaces on Southbank Boulevard.