Fishermans Bend to become Australia's most densely populated area

Spring Street has recently released its long awaited draft vision plan for the Fishermans Bend precinct and the government and media reports have made much of the tree lined boulevards, parks, jobs and investment that will flow from the implementation of the plan.

However media reports have failed to pick up the true scale of residential development that is being proposed in the plan.

Here are the widely reported headline figures:

  • 250 hectares
  • 80,000 residents
  • 40,000 jobs

Currently the area with the highest residential density in Australia is Pyrmont – Ultimo in Sydney which contains 13,900 people per square kilometre. In Melbourne the densest area is the Melbourne CBD with density with 10,900 people per km2.

Docklands will have a residential density of around 13,000 people per km2 when completed and the Green Square urban renewal project in Sydney (which is similar to Fisherman’s Bend) is planned to have a residential density of 14,400 people per km2. Fisherman’s Bend will have a residential density of 32,000 people per km2!

To put that into perspective Fishermans Bend will be as dense as Manhattan in New York which has a residential density of 32,000 people per km2. While this overall level of density is appropriate considering the context of the site and the lack of constraints over much of the area, it does mean that a level of infrastructure required to service the area will be above and beyond what has been required for any other similar development in Australia, especially considering the lack of existing residential infrastructure in what is currently an isolated industrial area.

The draft vision plan recognises this by proposing two underground rail stations to service the area as heavy rail is the only way to adequately cater for the scale of residential density proposed. A number of tram lines have also been proposed but these will only be adequate as an interim solution until densities increase. The section of the plan titled ‘how to make it happen’ clearly identifies that ‘the early delivery of infrastructure is critical to the transformation of Fishermans Bend from an industrial area to a mixed use area and to attract private investment.’ Unfortunately Spring Street has not yet committed to building the proposed underground train stations at any time in the future let alone in a timeframe that could be considered as ‘early delivery’.

Many are comparing Fishermans Bend to Docklands, however a better comparison would be with the Urban Renewal of Southbank that has occurred over the past 20 years. State and Local government are still playing catch up in Southbank to provide for the basic residential infrastructure required to support a new residential community of the size that had developed there over the last 20 years. When the plans for the residential redevelopment of the Southbank area were prepared in the early 1990’s, apartments only made up a tiny percentage of number of dwellings in the city and Melbourne was seen as a ‘rust belt’ city with bleak prospects for future growth.

At that time any suggestion that Southbank would be a forest of apartment towers between 30 and 90 storeys high within 20 years would have been seen as ridiculous. There were many at the time who believed that Melburnians were not interested in apartment living and the first large developments at Southbank were Townhouses and walk up flats.

The plans for Southbank made in the early 1990’s did not foresee the scale and speed of development that has occurred since 1995 and there were no development contributions required in Southbank as the government of the day was doing everything it could to encourage any form of development. With Fishermans Bend the government has no such excuses.

The flood of planning applications for apartment towers submitted before the draft vision plan was released is a good indication of the potential that developers see in the area.

Spring Street has made a good start by providing the framework for a development contributions plan and also recognising the critical role that the early provision infrastructure will play in the success of the precinct. However the devil is in the detail and the State Government needs to follow up the final vision plan with a detailed framework for the timely provision of infrastructure and services and how these will be paid for.

The State Government should also make sure that the provision of infrastructure in insulated from the political vagaries of the budget and election cycles to give developers, residents and business certainty when making their own plans for developing, living and working in Fishermans bend. The Draft Visions plan expects Fishermans Bend to be developed over a period of 50 years, or an average of 1600 new residents per year. There are plans already in place to accommodate over 30,000 new residents each year on Melbourne’s urban fringe over the next 30 years.

Since Fisherman’s Bend is one of the government’s key policies to reduce urban sprawl the government should be more aggressively pursuing development timelines for Fishermans Bend to have any real impact on the proportion of new dwellings constructed on the urban fringe.

Providing developers with certainty regarding the timely provision of infrastructure will boost the speed of development.

Concept image from the Fishermans Bend Urban Renewal Area Draft Vision Plan

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