Williamstown's contentious Nelson Place sails toward construction

An apartment sales campaign looks imminent for one of Melbourne's more contentious and long lasting development sites, referred to as Nelson Place. In recent weeks Dalton Consulting Engineers have been appointed to handle civil infrastructure matters and the like whilst Icon Construction currently have phase one of what will be known as Waterline Place listed online as an active construction tender.

Comprising 83 apartments and two retail tenancies, the initial development phase will include a six level SJB Architects-designed complex as seen below. The completed development will potentially see 20 level towers and in excess of 800 dwellings.

Stage One includes 83 apartments. Image courtesy Icon Construction

Site History

Formerly the Port Phillip Woollen Mills, the site is bound by Nelson Place (north), Kanowna Street (east), Cecil and Aitken streets (south) and Ann Street (west). Carrying a handful of historic structures, the development site has been subject to a decade of wrangling between Hobsons Bay City Council, the Save Williamstown action group and proponent, Evolve Development.

The long-running saga prompted developer Ashley Williams to deliver this broadside in response to the development and parking concerns raised by opposing bodies:

A bunch of what I'd say are fairly selfish established residents, who have benefited from property price rises, make it very hard for developers to respond to that demand. They forget that the changes that led to the parking issue have meant that there are more people around, more cafes, the place is a more vibrant retail centre, the supermarket and greengrocer open later, so you can't have it both ways.

Ashley Williams, "Developer furious at 'selfish' residents" (, February 27, 2013

It was argued by Save Williamstown that the development would:

  • Destroy heritage
  • Be situated too close to the shipyards
  • Be situated too close to Mobil MHF(includes feeder arms on jetty, pipelines & tank farm with tanks up to 40m diameter) and fuel importation ships flagged overseas
  • Destroy nationally significant jobs
  • Overwhelms local schools, child care and community services
  • Make Williamstown less family friendly
  • Overburden roads and traffic
  • Lead to tourists being squeezed out of the peninsula

Ultimately VCAT ruled in favour of the development as was reported during January 2013, dismissing a number of gauzy claims above.

Staged development

Images courtesy Lovell Chen & Save Williamstown

The overall site is broken into 14 separate lots according to the graphic above. Save Williamstown provides a concise summary of events and applications to date, where Stage One will involve Lots 1,2 and 3 with permitted plans allow for the demolition of the 1800's Oriental Hotel and provision for 142 dwellings by way of apartments and townhouses.

Lot 2 situated on the Nelson Place and Ann Street intersection holds the 6-storey apartment building which rises 19.6 metres above ground. Hobson Bay City Council's Built Form Outcomes seeks “A prominent building which provides emphasis to the corner of Nelson Place and Ann Street” and “A building that incorporates innovative façade articulation and limited sheer walls.” Vertical louvres look to be design response.

Subsequent stages are expected to see building heights rise to 9 levels, with the potential for multiple 20 level apartment towers considered likely for latter stages of the project. Expected to stretch toward 2020, the overall program is envisaged to deliver 700 apartments and 100 townhouses, although given the size and elongated delivery period for Waterline Place final numbers are unknown.


Bilby's picture

Are you including "Destroy Heritage" as a "...gauzy claim", Mark? From memory, the Oriental was one of the oldest and most significant heritage hotels in Williamstown (not to mention, Victoria). Other countries stabilise, restore, and celebrate their heritage when it falls into a state of disrepair and abandonment - here, we just commission an engineering report to say it is structurally unsound, then apply to tear it down.

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Mark Baljak's picture

Clearly heritage issues were a concern for the site - I'm not dismissing them but I will defer to the multiple heritage reports and rulings which ultimately allowed a handful of buildings to be demolished

On the face of it though demolishing the Oriental was a bad move.

Gauzy refers to some of the claims of Save Williamstown:
> Destroys nationally significant jobs
> Makes Williamstown less FAMILY FRIENDLY
> Tourists will be squeezed out of the peninsula

Reading through their website I feel some of what they say to be quite insular, verging on irrelevant. The loss of jobs at the shipyard and tourists being squeezed out of the peninsula are long bows to draw

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Martin Mankowski's picture

Have to agree with Mark here.

The shipyard jobs are already going after Abbott refused to commit to have any more ships built here in the near future. And im not sure how this development would have impacted that choice anyway?

How will tourists be squeezed out? Not only does Williamstown have an abundance of car parking for such a small area (albeit mostly paid) its also well served by PT, with Williamstown station situated just down the road from the new development.

As for being less 'Family Friendly' - this has the selfish NIMBYs alarm bells ringing straight away. The idea people will run away screaming from the beaches/restaurants/cafes because there are now apartments down the road is absurd to say the least. Hello - Nelson Heights public housing tower anyone???

Sure the Oriental may have some heritage value but its been a rundown eyesore for many years. There has been no interest in reviving it as its situated in the end of town where there is very little foot traffic. The best you could say is the facade should have been retained - though given its current state i can understand why the engineers said that was not viable.

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Bilby's picture

Martin, I too would agree with Mark about the issues mentioned - I would be more than happy to see a dense, superbly designed contemporary development on this site. I just wanted to clarify the conflation of the heritage issue with the "gauzy" issues also listed. To me, the heritage issues are clear - the Oriental, an extremely early and rare gold rush era hotel, should have been stabilised, restored and retained. These are the kind of developer trade offs that can easily be achieved in large developments like this. Melbourne is losing one of its most important assets every time we flatten one of these important cultural sites - I make no apologies for the forcefulness of my argument. Once these places go, they are gone - end of story. On the other hand, there will be thousands of these kinds of infill developments in the foreseeable future. What will the quality of life in our city be like after they are done? I will say this - anyone who thinks these heritage retention issues don't matter is absolutely on the wrong side of history. Those directly responsible for the current crop of destruction of culturally significant places like this will be derided by the future citizenry of Melbourne, just as past political leaders are being damned by the public in our time for allowing the demolition of so many of Melbourne's iconic buildings and streetscapes. It's not rocket science - connecting the past with the present via our built heritage is what makes neighbourhoods mean something to people, and this is one of the keys to liveability. We ignore it at our peril as a city and as a society.

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Mark Baljak's picture

Can't disagree

Concise article here for the Oriental Hotel's plight

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V President's picture

As the group that took the case for state registration of the Oriental to Heritage Council we would like to correct the record. Firstly a decision has not been made yet on state registration. Secondly the whole of section 1 Williamstown bounded by Nelson Place, Ann St, Aitken St and Kanowna St is of archaeological interest and requires analysis and photographic records. The interest is early European and Aboriginal and that is recognised in the demolition decisions from VCAT by members Code and Baird.

Re the Oriental it is on land first bought on govt grant Section 1 allotment 8 in 1849. The building on the land is by the first owner Benjamin Skelton who was a customs boatman and early land developer. There is no evidence that the 3 storey building was first a hotel but was most likely a residence which had commercial opportunities being close to the new Ann St pier which was constructed in 1850. The wide rooms fronting Nelson Pl (which was then the beach front) could have been a shop/ store/ food services or potential bank or exchange. Archaeology of the site may yield information. It is unlikely to have been a hotel because it has a narrow staircase. The trim of the rooms shows residential and possible accommodation use of rooms. There are convict bricks. The roof structure of the flat roof is still evident. The building in 1867 was described as the highest elevation in the colony and offered 400 people to be accommodated to view the arrival of the Duke of Edinburgh. The three storey building would have offered views to the heads, the town of Melbourne, across to Sandridge(now Port Melbourne and Williamstown Beach when first built. Edward Snell's lithograph drawing of Williamstown 1852 shows the 3 storey building with its parapet a design style Regency Italianate evident which came from the famous Is of Wight Osborne House designed by the Prince Regent. Snells 10 yr journal of his life in Australia quotes jus staying in a private boarding house in Williamstown which had a room sleeping 27 people with some beds hanging from the rafters. This is the only building in Williamstown at the time with rooms large enough. The original owner Benjamin Skelton borrowed for a second building on a subdivision of the land in June 1851 using existing buildings as collateral. This means Skeltons Oriental Building is pre separation of Victoria from NSW (July 1851) and pre Gold Rush. There are only 150 pre separation buildings in Victoria.

With this information I think most would agree that the developer should restore this building and maybe create community space for the whole development in this substantial 3 storey building and NOT destroy heritage of the area. It is a building to be proud of. The SW group is not NIMBY but has done the hard yakka to research original PROV & State Library documents and ensure the heritage is established in Heritage Council. Anyone wanting to know more about this fascinating history please email [email protected]

Save Williamstown

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Bilby's picture

Great summary of the heritage value of this place, V President - it's hard to argue the value of this building to the people of Victoria - it should be given interim heritage protection immediately, pending the HV result.

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