The quandry that is Hopkins Street Precinct

Does anyone doubt that Hopkins Street Precinct on the footstep on Footscray proper will be an unbridled success one day? I don't, but the total lack of action in materialising any of the many projects within the Urban Renewal Area is a concern and points to some fundamental issues within the precinct.

The impetus for this article is news this week the first major apartment project for the area (approved over three years ago) has been put on the market. Then design lead Architecton summed up both 10 Moreland Street and Joseph Road Precinct as follows:

The precinct has historically been used for a mix of industrial activities which are no longer viable or appropriate in this location. The precinct benefits from unrivalled proximity to both the Footscray CAD and the Maribyrnong River environs, and enjoys excellent multi-modal connections to other parts of Melbourne.

The strategic vision is for the area to be revitalised through new and innovative mixed use development. This proposal has received the first planning permit and hence the first step in the revitalisation of the Joseph Road precinct. It is therefore considered a catalyst for change which will assist in the implementation of the State and local government's broader vision for Footscray.

Architecton: Moreland Street Footscray
The current version of 10 Moreland Street. Image courtesy Colliers

Unfortunately there has been no catalyst for change within the 17 hectare precinct in recent years, and no prospect of there being so in the short to medium term. Fellow precinct permit holder 2 Hopkins Street is also currently for sale while 8 Hopkins Street and 18-24 Hopkins Street successfully found buyers earlier in the year, although there are no plans to immediately develop.

4 Neilson Place and 1 Warde Street are currently at planning with joint developer Urban Inc's Danny Ciarma indicating 1 Warde Street wasn't a priority development during an interview with Urban Melbourne during mid 2014. Whether at planning or approved, Joseph Street Precinct currently has approximately 3150 in just six projects listed on Urban Melbourne's Project Database.

At this point Joseph Street Precinct reminds me of an old adage, "All dressed up with nowhere to go."

The issues

From a laypersons perspective, these are the issues Joseph Street Precinct currently face:

  • The sites industrial heritage means it's little more than a decrepit wasteland. Which developer would be the first to deliver their project and have it site in total desolation, condemning residents to barren external environment?
  • As evidenced the projects mentioned above, the average development to date in Joseph Street Precinct is huge. Understandable given the lot sizes on offer, but even in staged delivery these projects need to sell hundreds of apartments at a time which for a new residential precinct in this position is quite the ask.
  • It seems no developer wants to be the first into Joseph Street Precinct. Taking into account the above and other factors it almost looks like game theory at play where one player is reactionary to other players. If one development is launched will the other immediately follow? Probably not, and therein lies part of the problem.

The solution

Forget Docklands as an example, in this instance, Dandenong's urban renewal program may just provide the blueprint to lift Joseph Street Precinct out of the development doldrums. Revitalising Central Dandenong is an ongoing urban renewal project delivered by the State government via Places Victoria, in conjunction with the City of Greater Dandenong.

Critical infrastructure and extensive civic works continue to be delivered to Dandenong's CBD in order to stimulate private investment in the area - a ploy which to date has worked - with increased commercial and residential development the result. A similar program is precisely what Joseph Street Precinct requires in my view.

Joseph Street Precinct absolutely needs an initial infrastructure boost from the State government in order to promote the area as more than a current industrial wasteland. Implementing a road network and delivering some much needed civic works, particularly to Maribyrnong River, may just be the key to unlocking a flow of development that would begin the long sought transformation of the precinct.

Whether it be Places Victoria, City of Maribyrnong or both, Joseph Street Precinct is in desperate need of impetus by way of initial public works investment. To do nothing is to condemn the precinct to further dormancy.

So close to the CBD, yet so far from being reality!


gobillino's picture

Ship has probably sailed, but surely there should have been a Developer Contributions scheme in place (is there?) to fund this infrastructure, over what is a pretty big precinct with comprehensive redevelopment opportunities. Council could have incorporated the cost of finance into the DCP, and funded the critical enabling works relatively early. I'd prefer to see public money going into public realm improvements in the Footscray CAD (where there's more limited capacity to secure DCs) than adding to the profits of big developers.

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Martin Mankowski's picture

Gobillino - agreed. The problem is the council are still against the large scale projects slated for the area. They have fought tooth and nail to have each of the permits rejected, and I assume still harbour hopes of any future government limiting the size and scale of any future projects. It really is quite frustrating - like you said, they really could use this to their advantage. The reality is even if Labor win, Brian Tee is unlikely to hand them back planning control of the area. They would have been much better off fighting for higher DCs rather than dreaming about building another low rise Beacon Cove. Thanks to their active but pointless obstructionism i fear its destined to be a desolate industrial wasteland for some time to come. :(

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johnproctor's picture

they could probably have used the legal and VCAT fees to fund some of the infrastructrue as well!

btw. I really don't think Dandenong is a good example of anything the scale of investment there was ridiculous for little output. while the public realm works might look pretty its been fucking expensive along with all the land acquisition that was completed and nearly 10 years later there is 1 or 2 developments there largely public sector generated.

They'd have been better off in Dandenong spending $0 on the public realm and just relocating VicRoads regional office (from Burwood), there call centre (from Kew) and bult the South East Water office there instead of Frankston and had 1000 extra white collar employees in the CBD across 2-3 sites, in addition to the ATO building by Grocon and hte new Council offices and LIbrary etc.

When building those 5-6 sites they could have upgraded the immediate public realm around them and connected them for about $10 million (+$20 million for George Street bridge extension) instead of hte near $200m spent to date to own a lot of vacant land that doesn't look like being developed for a while.

1000+ office workers would bring good money into the local lunch and cafe spots, generally lift the vibe and have stimulated apartment growth anyway.

If I was doing Hopkins Street I'd do 3 things.

1. a new ped bridge over the railway lines to connect into that area of footscray and give the best links to the Vic Uni campus. (maybe $5 million)

2. build a parklet to connect the precinct down ot the Maribyrnong wiht a path link down to hte Maribyrnong Trail. ($500,000)

3. Build pedestrian lights across Hopkins Street immediately east of the railway line to give best ped access across to the Station/Market/Yarra Civic precinct... ($1 million)

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Riccardo's picture

Sounds more like a soft market than anything. They built skyscrapers in the deserts of Dubai because there was demand. The greater risk for the 'first mover' is their purchasers and tenants are surrounded by a few more years of construction.

This site has so many parallels to Wolli Creek it isn't funny. Why Mark doesn't draw attention to that, and interstate parallels in general is beyond me. Not all wisdom is found in Melbourne.

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Riccardo's picture

jpro, your comment makes sense, but i don't dream of a precinct with a thousand (regional office) public servants, skimping on buying lunch, running outside to move their cars every two hours rather than catch the train, and crowding out eventual private sector interest.

I think the public sector, about like housing commission tenants, need to be spread out about to avoid a heavy impost on their host areas.

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