Southgate revamp gets green light, but community reacts with mixed views

Brendan Rees

A state government decision to approve a $470 million redevelopment of Southgate has divided the community, with some welcoming the plan – while others say there was a lack of “any kind of attempt” at consultation.

Under the plans, the existing three-level complex will be partly demolished to make way for new bars, restaurants, and shops within a new five-story podium.

A 26-storey office building will also be built as part of the Fender Katsalidis-designed revamp which will also see the creation of 2000 square metres of new public open space (about the size of a supermarket) above Southbank Promenade.

The project, which was initially estimated at $800 million by the Australian arm of Singapore-based developer ARA, will create 3600 ongoing jobs and provide public benefits worth more than $12 million, including more accessible public open space and pedestrian links to other precincts in the area.

Planning Minister Richard Wynne gave his approval of the redevelopment in December, which he said would “bring new life to this much-loved part of Melbourne, providing a thriving new hub for retail and hospitality.”

“The new-look Southgate will create a new destination for Melburnians and tourists – creating hundreds of local construction jobs and thousands of ongoing jobs once the project is complete,” he said.

But residents of the Quay West apartment building have expressed concerns that there was a lack of consultation from ARA over noise, traffic, and loss of amenity issues.

Resident Mem Aziz, who has been outspoken over ARA’s “failure” to communicate, said while residents were not objecting to the redevelopment, they were concerned about the 26-storey tower creating issues of privacy and overshadowing.

“The area of Southgate and Southbank is already overdeveloped with buildings overshadowing each other, major traffic hazards, and less oxygen flow,” he said.

“As a resident I have made numerous attempts to reach out to ARA and the Victorian Government for over 12 months, sending letters, emails and making phone calls, but to no avail.”

“The government nor ARA have made any kind of attempt to contact us or myself in any way.”

Mr Aziz said overall he felt “utterly disgusted with the entire handling” of the project by decision makers, and predicted the tower would increase the power bills of residents “as we will be required to keep the lights on for much longer because of the shadowing”.

Another Quay West resident John Smith said he was “quite disappointed” the project had been given the go-ahead without proper community consultation.

“As residents, we’ve never had any contact with ARA, they’ve just not really acknowledged us,” he said.

 

The other interesting thing was nowhere in the Minister’s approval was there parties like Quay West, whereas other venues such as Hamer Hall were included.

 

Mr Smith said traffic flow during and after construction was “a major issue”. “How is everything going to be managed so we as residents of Quay West retain our lifestyle without severely being interrupted?” he questioned.

A statement from the state government said in line with the Melbourne Planning Scheme, the project layout “ensures minimal amenity impacts to surrounding properties and no overshadowing to public open space, including the Yarra River, between 11am and 2pm”.

David Schuller, chair of St John’s Lutheran Church, which is located next to Southgate, said he had experienced “good consultation” with the project’s liaison manager.

“We welcome development that assists in the area in showcasing Southgate,” he said, but added “we understand during a construction phase there’s going to be things you need to work through.”

He said ARA had been “very open” to hearing their concerns around noise, dust, and working times, and had been given reassurances it would work to “address” these potential issues.

While he acknowledged some residents and businesses have had “some stronger opinions” on the redevelopment, he said “as far as we are concerned, we’re part of a community that includes everybody. If they want to develop, we’ll work with them and I’m pretty sure we’ll get an acceptable outcome.”

Mr Schuller said it was his understanding that ARA would complete detailed planning this year and envisioned there would be “quite a bit of consultation in the coming 12 months”.

But he said it would be mostly “business as usual” for the church when the construction phase occurred with no impact to their own car park access.

Jaye Chin-Dusting, owner of Mary Martin Bookshop at Southgate, said “in principle, I am very excited about what looks to be a world-class and enviro-friendly redevelopment”.

“The Mary Martin bookshop has been a part of the precinct since the very beginning, and we look forward to being a continued part of this space,” she said.

“The pandemic has thrown up a lot of unknowns for Melbourne and everyone has struggled with even the best-laid plans, but future projections look most exciting.”

At a council meeting last year, Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said neighbouring businesses including La Camera and The Langham Hotel had voiced concern about “unsatisfactory” consultation with ARA. La Camera declined to comment to Southbank News while The Langham was contacted for comment.

ARA Australia investments and asset management head Rohan Neville said the redevelopment would transform Southgate into a “world-class precinct that enhances Melbourne’s positioning as one of the world’s most liveable cities.”

“As proactive asset owners and managers, we constantly evaluate opportunities to enhance our assets,” he said. “With this announcement, we are able to build upon Southgate’s iconic status and unlock its untapped potential as well as revitalise the precinct; enabling tenants to thrive in a post-pandemic economy.”

The project was approved following consultation with the City of Melbourne, Heritage Victoria, the Department of Transport, Melbourne Water, and the Office of the Victorian Government Architect.

The City of Melbourne was asked if it believed that a proper consultation process had been in place, but instead referred Southbank News to its May 18 Future Melbourne Committee meeting during which the plans were approved •

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