Southbankers vindicated as council flags “open space and safety” focus

Southbankers vindicated as council flags “open space and safety” focus

By David Schout

Southbankers have made themselves heard on the City of Melbourne’s latest budget and four-year plan, as Lord Mayor Sally Capp declared new green space and public safety as priorities for the area.

Locals were given the opportunity to voice their views on both the council’s newly-adopted 2021-22 budget, and 2021-25 plan at a June 29 special meeting.

Among the feedback was hearty endorsement of the new green space commitment, and the need for greater clarity on the City Road Master Plan.

One senior council figure acknowledged that the council could do better in postcode 3006.

“We need to do better in Southbank, and we will. That’s my commitment on behalf of the ELT (executive leadership team) here,” acting general manager of infrastructure and design Roger Teale said.

Central to discussion from locals was a positive; the council’s commitment to providing, by 2025, 1.1 hectares of new open space in Southbank — the equivalent of around one-and-a-half soccer fields.

As one of Australia’s most densely-populated suburbs, the $20 million commitment for the next 12 months (plus an extra $5 million in forward estimates) was welcomed by all Southbankers who spoke.

Southbank Sustainability Group’s Artemis Pattichi said the group “can’t wait” for the green space commitment to materialise.

“Finally, we get to see Southbank having a prominent role in this draft budget,” she said at the special June 29 meeting.

“We’ve been feeling like a forgotten child of the City of Melbourne for a while. So, it’s good to see an investment in our much-loved suburb so we can feel that it’s a neighbourhood; it’s not just a transient place where people live to get to work easily.”

Ms Pattichi said they hoped the new spaces would create community-focused places where locals could “meet our neighbours”.

“One very important point that we did want to make around that is that we want to see an activated green space, not a passive one, meaning it becomes a space where the community gets to come together and interact.”

Fellow Southbank resident Chris Jubb was similarly positive about the open space, but wanted the council to consult with the public about the location and size of the green space.

“I’d like to say how great it is that we’re getting some new open space, we really need that,” he said.

“I will request, though, that it becomes good quality open space. By that I mean large and protected from traffic, so we have somewhere we can connect with nature and escape from the busyness of the area that we live in once in a while.”

Southbank Residents’ Association (SRA) president Tony Penna also paid tribute to the council’s $20 million investment in the next 12 months.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the SRA’s Community Forum on March 23 had left the council in no doubt as to what the key issue in Southbank was.

“Out of the last forum, one of the elements that was loud and clear was public open space, which is why our council plan and budget includes allocation for that,” she said.

Cr Capp said there were two other Southbank priorities for the council; the reimagining of Kings Ways undercroft as a community space, and public safety after five pedestrians were hit by a truck at a notorious Southbank intersection in May.

“We’ll stay focused on delivering those areas in the Kings Way undercroft and, given the tragic accident at the corner of Power [St] and City Rd, the priority is on that intersection,” she said.

“But overall making sure that we’re addressing safety outcomes for residents. [So] it’s open space, recreation and it’s safety and security as priority focus areas at the moment. And I would say that we know we need to do better on delivering on things we make a priority, so that’s going to be a big focus for us going forward.”

City Rd on the agenda

Perhaps unsurprisingly, City Rd featured prominently at the council’s special meeting.

Delays to enacting a master plan for the road, endorsed in 2016, have led to resident frustrations in recent years.

Cr Rohan Leppert told Southbank News earlier this year he “completely understood” discontent surrounding the project.

However, the council, which partnered with the state government on the project, issued a renewed commitment to the project as a “major initiative” for 2021-25.

“As part of the delivery of the City Road Master Plan, the City of Melbourne will design and deliver the upgrades to the City Rd northern undercroft by end of 2023–24 and advocate to the Victorian Government for the full delivery of upgrades to the City Rd East and West,” it read.

“Excellent, finally,” Mr Penna said in response.

“I think four years in a row I’ve been up here complaining that it’s behind schedule and it’s not budgeted — great to see that it’s in there. After the results of Southbank Boulevard there’s some trepidation in the community as to how that will actually roll out and the delays we might experience.”

The budget included a $650,000 allocation within the next 12 months for the northern section of the Kings Way undercroft.

Mr Penna hoped a basketball court slated for the area could be delivered before the current court at Boyd Park was removed to make way for an upcoming development.

Mr Teale confirmed the council “had money in the budget for the basketball courts to be delivered”, and works could begin next year.

He also confirmed that plans were on track for a new dog park located at the disused area beneath the Kings Way southern undercroft, set to be completed in August.

“Lessons learned”

In responding to Mr Penna in relation to the council’s failures in transforming Southbank Boulevard into a linear park, the council’s CEO Justin Hanney told the meeting that lessons had been learned.

Mr Hanney referenced an internal audit undertaken on the $50 million capital works project 18 months ago, which he said had unearthed a “design as we go” approach.

“Those lessons have been applied and introduced,” he said.

“… in terms of how projects are designed and that we don’t design as we go and construct, which might have been an historic case with Southbank Boulevard over multiple years.”

“So, the disciplines that are in place by the capital works team and project management are giving councillors confidence, and me as CEO confidence, that we are delivering on our capital works agenda in a timely way, within budget.”

“Hopefully you’re seeing those changes on the ground because I think we’re certainly seeing them as projects are being initiated, and proof in the pudding is that we’ve had our best ever, as we close out the financial year, percentage delivery of capital works budget.”

Call for clearer communication

After many years campaigning for increased open space in Southbank, SRA was disappointed to find out about the considerable $25 million allocation from Southbank News.

“We were disappointed council weren’t able to reach out to us and advise us that that was going to be in the budget,” Mr Penna said

“We have probably been one of the most vocal groups in regard to open space, and this council certainly knows that. Yet when they’ve got something so significant to bring to the community’s attention, they failed to reach out to the very people that have been advocating for this.” •

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