“We’re treated like a doormat”: residents stood up over Southgate concerns

By Spencer Fowler Steen

More than 50 local residents living in Quay West say they were left in the lurch last month claiming that Southgate’s owners ARA Australia pulled out of a meeting at the last minute without explanation, amid concerns over its redevelopment.

In May last year, ARA announced that it had submitted a development application to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) for a new 26-storey office tower and more than 10,000 sqm of new-look retail space across four levels.

In a statement issued at the time, ARA Australia said that it had looked to capitalise on the state government’s fast-tracking of building permits amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

At least 25 residents at Quay West have expressed a raft of concerns in letters to the Minister for Planning Richard Wynne, ARA Australia and the City of Melbourne regarding the lack of consultation, fears about both project and traffic management during construction, and loss of privacy and noise from the development.

But at the time of publication, Southbank News understands those concerns remain unaddressed.

Quay West resident John Smith said ARA Australia had committed to attending a meeting with more than 50 owners in late March to hear their concerns, but “pulled out at the 11th hour”.

“At the meeting, we went through a list of issues and everybody was informed, but the idea was that ARA Australia would be there to address our issues,” he said.

“But they pulled out at the 11th hour without explanation.”

While it’s understood that initial consultation began with residents in December regarding the proposed changes to Southgate’s easements, Quay West resident Mem Aziz said he was disappointed with ARA Australia’s continued disregard for their concerns.

“We’re the most affected and the least consulted,” he said.

“I feel like we’re treated like a doormat and people keep wiping their feet and walking on us.”

“There’s no consideration to people and their lifestyles being changed - I’ve written a lot of letters to the Minister for Planning and got standard, generic letters of reply.”

“It’s like we’re being ignored and they’re just hoping we go away. But we’re not going away.”

Southbank News has previously reported on issues raised by Southgate’s tenants, with Quay West residents the latest community members to add their voice to a growing list of worries about ARA’s proposal.

Quay West resident Stan Allen said owners had engaged a planning consultant to review the plans for the development, who found “significant breaches” of planning overlays.

Among the “many” breaches found, Mr Allen claimed the proposed office tower did not adhere to the Melbourne Planning Scheme (DDO60) and would undermine the “special character” of existing low-scale urban form along the Yarra River corridor.

“It’s almost standard arrogance with major projects,” Mr Allen said.

“Long-term owners came to the meeting, and when they looked at the dominating plan for the building, they were aghast.”

Another resident, Mel Sutherland, said her experience dealing with ARA Australia regarding Southgate lay in stark contrast to the Hamer Hall redevelopment in 2012.

“To compare it, when they were redoing Hamer Hall, Quay West were invited to their meetings and everything, and they did lots of research on the area,” she said.

“This shouldn’t be any different, but we’ve had no consultation.”

Quay West residents are also worried about access for residents with medical problems during construction, who often depend on nurses and other medical staff getting into the building.

Mr Smith said he had also requested that noise restrictions be applied to ARA Australia’s proposed “River Meadow” – a 2000 sqm garden event space at Southgate – in letters to the Minister for Planning, but had not received a response.

The glass face of the 26-storey building also poses privacy concerns according to residents, who say people will be able to look into the Quay West building from the office block.

Overshadowing and light reflection from the glass are also among their growing list of concerns.

ARA Australia did not formally respond to questions about the meeting, but a spokesperson said ARA Australia welcomed all questions and would be hosting further stakeholder information sessions for the public once its application was approved by the authorities.

The spokesperson said Quay West residents and the broader community could direct their queries to about the redevelopment of Southgate to [email protected]

A spokesperson for the Minister for Planning Richard Wynne said planning regulations in the central city meant developments such as Southgate were generally exempt from third-party notice and review requirements.

However, the spokesperson said Richard Wynne had decided to consult with owners and occupiers of surrounding properties including Quay West, specifically in relation to ARA’s proposed variation of easements.

Several submissions have been received by the Minister for Planning’s office, which will be considered before any decision is made, the spokesperson added.

Construction impacts are managed under the City of Melbourne’s construction management guidelines and local law requirements. If the proposal is approved, the protection of resident access, safety and amenity and other construction concerns will be managed by the City of Melbourne under existing processes •

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