Port Phillip’s Fishermans Bend Tragedy

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By Dick Gross AM – former Mayor of Port Phillip

Fishermans Bend is a looming tragedy for Victoria and Port Phillip. Whilst the primary blame lies at the feet of the former Coalition Government, the Port Phillip and Melbourne Councils have been shockingly neglectful. No wonder local MP Michael Danby calls this Port Phillip Council, “The worst in history”.

There is a picture of the current Port Phillip Mayor taken by newspapers sucking up to the then Premier Napthine and Planning Cowboy Mathew Guy in September 2013. See Herald Sun photo at http://www.heraldsun.com.au/leader/inner-east/schools-and-train-stations-part-of-vision-for-fishermans-bend/story-fngnvlpt-1226720194010 and The Age photo at http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/bid-for-new-80000-suburb-20130916-2tv73.html That was the opportunity for Cr Voss and Melbourne’s Mayor Robert Doyle to demand sensible planning. They did not. They were submissive or asleep at the wheel and are thus jointly blameworthy for the unfolding fiasco.

Indeed, at its meeting in November 2013, a servile Port Phillip Council turned its back on the atrocity by resolving:

The Draft Vision represents an incredibly positive opportunity to reshape how Melbournians think about urban growth…it has the potential to become a truly city shaping, transformational project.

The City Port Phillip is proud to have been part of the preparation of this Vision.”

OMG! Did they really resolve that!?

Fishermans Bend is huge. It is three times the size of Docklands. It is twice the size of Melbourne’s CBD. It is now industrial area with only 200 residents. And without residents to be vigilant, the Coalition government made some shocking errors.

Located adjacent to the city and fronted by river and Bay views, the redevelopment could have been marvellous. It could have been very green, human scaled medium density housing with great transport, education and recreation facilities. It is none of those things. Such a vision required time, patience and planning. In the undue haste which (maybe) unintentionally gave the Minister’s developer mates a windfall profit, there was no planning and no provision for the necessary social infrastructure needed in any civil society.

So without buying land for schools and open space and with no roads or public transport 46 towers have been approved between 20 and 50 stories. At 17,600 units, that is 3 times as many as the current units in Docklands. And we know what a windswept disaster Docklands is perceived to be. It is a recipe for slums without services. But of course governments will have to buy now costly land for services. Recently the new State Government was reported to be forced to spend north of $20 million land for a park that cost $5 million 8 years ago. The losses for the Victorian taxpayer are estimated by an Advisory Committee at $340 million for parks alone. Roads, school, health centres and other social infrastructure will cost hundreds of millions more.

In addition, the land is heavily polluted. The go signals in 2013 and 2014 were given by Mathew Guy without censure from the acquiescent councils with no certainty about who is going to pay for the cleanup and how much. Is that an additional billion dollar bill being faced by Victorian taxpayers and Port Phillip ratepayers?

There will be additional costs for St Kilda residents and traders. First, we are going to lose our waste transfer station (outside but close to Fishermans Bend) as this is destined to make way for a park and school. That might be a good idea but we need waste and cleaning services. Will we be adequately compensated for this loss by the State? No way. How will waste be managed in the future? There appears to be no planning for this. Are more costs for waste management looming that we don’t know about yet? St Kilda and it residents and will lose big time as money, resources and attention are directed to the north of the municipality at Fishermans Bend.

As well, people in St Kilda, Elwood and East St Kilda will lose from this project located miles from their homes. The Council has to cut current services in order to plan for the complicated future change in Fishermans Bend. For example aged care services are being cut now to pay for the planning needed in the new residential zone before that new zone starts paying the higher rates densely populated towers should pay. The mistakes of the past are financially haunting us now and the Council did not negotiate any compensation from the State. That is being paid by current rate payers.

There is now an Advisory Committee looking at the bungles. It has called the Coalition government stuff up as “misguided”. More disturbing news is emerging all the time. The hugely expensive government bills for land repurchases and contamination seem to be bobbing up frequently. The new Government is saddled with the appalling decisions of the Napthine/Matthew Guy era abetted by the lad dog myopic councils in Melbourne and Port Phillip.

And the Councils? Melbourne and Port Phillip are hoping that amnesia sets in. They were immorally silent because they feared that if they objected they would be punished by a boundary change. That was submissive, selfish and myopic. They were sleazy and are now blameworthy. The Councillors aided and abetted what could be the biggest land scandal in the nation’s history. They need to own up, apologise and retire at the next election. No councillor should be immune from such an expensive series of disasters. They abdicated the duties they owed to their communities. Ditch the lot of them.

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