The headline for this article references a comment by a planning aficionado last week along the lines of many people are entitled to, and do have their say, but at the end of the day "there still needs to be a bus driver." This was in reference to the malaise of municipal councils north of the Murray and the friction generated from those councils not necessarily heading in a common direction, or advancing their agendas without an overarching plan and/or vision that a body such as a State Government would provide.
Different context yes, but the rumblings of late surrounding Fishermans Bend leads me to draw some parallels with what is occurring north of the border.
As many readers are aware Fishermans Bend reached a critical juncture last week when it was announced that a handful of the dozens of towers slated for the precinct gained approval. Notable in that these towers are the first large-scale developments given a green light for the Urban Renewal Area, whereas previous approvals were of a low-rise nature.
Encircling the raft of approvals was an almost pall of commentary, bemoaning all things Fishermans Bend. Examples include:
Add to this the questionable assertions as outlined in this article entitled "A tall order as Melbourne City Council seeks to reclaim skyscraper approval powers." Current Planning Minister Matthew Guy is derided for approving too many planning applications as if he in some way is responsible for instigating the mass of current applications; last time I checked developers lodge planning applications where and when they see fit.
So it seems all and sundry are lining up to slag Fishermans Bend prior to the commencement of works, with a multitude of opinions thrown into the public sphere. There's nothing wrong with that of course but one of the critical questions has already been answered by Labor leader Daniel Andrews should Labor triumph in the upcoming State election.
Whilst displeased with certain aspects of the Fishermans Bend planning process to date, Labor "will not ditch the master plan if it wins office." Having been ardent critics to date, Daniel Andrews' comment suggests that Labor also at a State level understands the vital nature of Fishermans Bend, particularly as an economic driver into the future.
It also gives the impression that someone will be 'driving the Fishermans Bend bus' post election, regardless of who wins.
So big picture thinking seemingly assured, what is the pertinent criticism of Fishermans Bend that puts other mediocre arguments surrounding the precinct to shame? The Urban Renewal Area absolutely needs a coherent and cohesive structure plan beyond what has already been put forward.
I consider tower height near on obsolete in the current Fishermans Bend argument; whether a tower is 20 or 40 levels is to my way of thinking near inconsequential compared to what occurs at street level which is absolutely paramount. Consider Southbank and Docklands whose common failings revolve around what occurs (or more accurately what doesn't occur) at street level. Tall or short buildings aside, if the public realm doesn't work it's almost inconceivable that anything else will.
Post election the party of the day needs to place Fishermans Bend's transport and public realm considerations at the fore. Provide clarity as to the location of light and heavy rail options, implement an area-wide ground level landscape plan, nominate specific sites for what will become necessary community infrastructure and ensure the street level activation of all buildings for the area. Granted much of this has been done to a degree, but half-arsed attempts lead to poor outcomes.
It's about getting the fundamentals right, and getting them right sooner rather than later (hello Docklands!)
Regardless of who wins the upcoming election, Fishermans Bend's structure plan, transport blueprint and urban principles need to be enshrined prior to works commencing. Is this a case of easier said than done? Once the Urban Renewal Area stops being used as a political football, I think not.