The Triangle torture

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By Dick Gross, former Mayor of Port Phillip

The latest draft of the ongoing triangular torture is out and it is a hugely expensive lemon. The development plan relates to the triangular area next to the Palais on the St Kilda foreshore. A misguided Council hopes that this will solve its problems until after the next election.   It is a sham that will kick the questions of the site down the road until the election is behind us and then the whole thing can languish for another decade.

But what it really shows is massive governmental failure of the last two councils to do anything useful but waste money – your money.

The Port Phillip Council has deceived itself and ratepayers with an uncosted, unviable dud. This is about the 4th of these expensive plans which roll out every few years so that the Council can fool itself and the community that something is happening. But nothing is happening other than window dressing. Oh…sorry…something is happening. Millions of dollars are being poured down the toilet.

Let’s look at the fantasy factor first. Before a development can get off the ground several things have to happen at the same time. The design, the potential uses and the money all have to be lined up simultaneously. It’s a difficult thing to do but it only happens when a number of things happen at once. The inexperienced leaders of the council have not lined up the money! They know the new plans cost over $350 million. There is some money for a private hotel slotted for the back of the Palais but essentially it is unfunded. That is why this document is a con. Without funding it either will not happen or it will happen with money making changes that render it a huge and locally unpopular monster. Money drives every development. Without financial certainty, every development either stops in its tracks or goes on a search for dough that makes in larger and more intrusive. That is why this plan is a con. The plan will either not happen or become massive. It cannot remain unchanged.

Now let’s talk about money. Preliminary costing puts the current plan at $355 million. That sounds like $50 million more than the rejected 2008 scheme. But that is only part of the story. That ignores the $20 million the Council and the State are putting in of your money into the Palais renovation. That ignores the $2 million per year of rates payable since 2008 foregone. That ignores the $15 million spent on outside payments ($10 million) and staff time (estimated at $5 million). The place is leaking money. You the ratepayer have literally haemorrhaged hundreds (maybe thousands) of dollars per household to this folly. Such irresponsibility is breathtaking.

Now let’s talk about the National Gallery. Late in the co design process the idea was mooted that the NGV would be the white knight riding to the salvation of the Council. The NGV wants a third campus and why not be a big part of the Triangle? Well that is a problem. I understand that the NGV is looking for a huge amount of space for a gallery, tertiary institution and etc. If it came to the Triangle it would want to dominate the address so that its identity as part of the NGV is manifest. It would grow the planned building envelope and create who knows what architectural carnage. But there is no current indication of interest. They might surprise me and be the white knight. And that slim prospect is exciting for the Council because they can string this con out to beyond the election.

Now let’s talk about design. The draft plan packs a huge amount of stuff at the back of the Palais. But it is too high. This Council tolerates towers (see February’s column on the Fisherman Bend fiasco). But the current plan is too high and will overshadow the foreshore. It is also too ugly. One mate called it a “gun turret”. I think the plan looks like a bomb shelter was plonked on the top of a high tower. The NGV won’t buy it without complete change. Moreover, there is little wind protection making the so called Pleasure Garden more like Arctic Park. And there is no place for live music. Whatever happened to the live music agenda?

The design has all the mediocrity of a camel: too many agendas and not enough money. The process to come up with this was given the clumsy name, the co-design process where a few of us still standing got to frame a wish list. It is naive think that a pack of community people can agree on a viable design. The Council kept telling us this was a world first innovation. The reason that no one has done this before is that it is a bad idea.

And so what is the point of “UnChain”? They got into power promising a small well costed result on the Triangle. They have disgracefully failed.

So we have it. The Triangle torture will continue. Your money will pay for high, ugly designs that cost hundreds of millions of dollars and yet don’t stack up and won’t be built. Two councils soon will have come and gone and nothing will save the community from the financial damage and the criminal loss of opportunity for the jobs not created on the site. It is a disaster.


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