Southgate vision a step closer but residents say “they haven’t even met one of us”

Southgate vision a step closer but residents say “they haven’t even met one of us”

By Brendan Rees

A controversial plan to redevelop the Southgate complex with a mix of shops, eateries, and commercial offices could be considered this month despite residents saying they still haven’t been consulted.

ARA Australia is seeking planning approval for a 26-storey commercial building and a five-storey podium in what it touts would be a revitalisation of the precinct.

It also proposes to create 2000 sqm of new public open space (about the size of a supermarket) above Southbank Promenade.

Under the design by architects Fender Katsalidis, ARA proposes to partially demolish the Southgate complex at 3 Southgate Avenue as well as the retail levels below the Langham Hotel.

A future pedestrian link to the Melbourne Arts Precinct and upgrades along City Rd have also been proposed.

But the plans have sparked a ferocious backlash from residents and business owners, who have voiced concerns of noise, traffic, and loss of privacy.

The proposal came to a head at a May 18 Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting when a spokesman for the Langham Hotel (which sits within the Southgate precinct) joined a growing chorus that there had been “inadequate” consultation.

However, an ARA spokesperson told Southbank News in a statement this month it had conducted “a number of stakeholder meetings and focus groups to date which have helped to inform our initial design and planning considerations”.

“We will commence with our next stage of community consultation should the proposed redevelopment be approved by the Planning Minister,” the spokesperson said.

“If approved, ARA Australia will undertake the development in accordance with the construction management plan approved by the relevant authority which will address matters of noise, traffic and dust management.”

It’s understood the proposal is currently sitting on the Planning Minister Richard Wynne’s desk (who ultimately decides if a permit should be issued) with a spokesperson saying it was “still being assessed” and flagged a possibility it could be reviewed in August, but no further details could be provided.

The City of Melbourne also did not wish to comment due to the application being before the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and referred Southbank News to the May 18 FMC meeting in which councillors voted unanimously in support of the development plan.

Councillors also referred the proposal to the Victorian Design Review Panel for consideration for its “massing” and “development envelope plans”.

Resident John Smith of the Quay West apartment building said a “lack of overall” project management and traffic plans were his two main concerns and “neither of them has been commented on.”

He said he was disappointed the council “could’ve perhaps in some way taken more of our concerns in account.”

Since the May meeting, he said “it’s gone absolutely quiet” and “others that I’m aware of in the building have formally requested some discussion face-to-face with ARA and that has not occurred at this time.”

Another concerned Quay West resident Mem Aziz said he had sent more than a dozen emails to the Planning Minister’s office which had fallen on deaf ears.

One drastic email featured a white elephant superimposed on a photo of the Southgate precinct, saying “this kind of development continues to destroy our beautiful city.”

“They’re ignoring the residents and owners because they don’t want to consult with us or hear anything we’ve got to say,” he said.

“They made no attempt to have any dialogue with us. They haven’t even met one of us let alone a number of us.”

Mr Aziz said he received one response from ARA saying “they’ll inform us once the council has approved [the plan]”.

A council document in May stated preliminary parking, loading, traffic, sustainable building design and waste storage and collection arrangements “are appropriate at this stage in the process” •

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