"Catch a ride to the end of the highway. And we'll meet by the big red tree. There's a place up ahead and I'm goin'. Come along, come along with me"
These lyrics are synonymous with US rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival's Up Around the Bend but would also seem equally at home in the Napthine Government's Draft vision for Fishermans Bend. Released on Monday the draft signals the beginning of the community consultation process (which runs until November 22), allowing Victorians to provide feedback before the release of the Strategic Framework Plan in 2014.
Fishermans Bend has been designated as the area bound by Lorimer Street to the North, Todd Road to the West, Williamstown Road to the South and Boundary Street linking City Road to the east, with the West Gate Freeway slicing through as demonstrated by the Places Victoria image below. It will be identified by four suburbs of various scale and densities; Lorimer, Montague (City of Melbourne LGA) Sandridge and Wirraway (City of Port Phillip LGA)
The Fishermans Bend urban renewal project was first announced in July 2012 by Planning Minister Matthew Guy as a project of State Significance in response to the continued growth on the outskirts of the city in the form of urban sprawl, but also as a means of providing affordable housing closer to existing jobs, services, public spaces and public transport. In one foul swoop 250 hectares of mostly industrial land was rezoned to Capital City Zone - expanding the existing zone by 50% to allow for the development of apartments and offices intended to accommodate 80,000 residents and 40,000 workers in 40 years time. Putting these figures into perspective the 2011 census lists Southbank's population as sitting at just over 11,000 people, Docklands at just shy of 6,000 and the whole Melbourne Central area sitting at just under 94,000. Upon completion somewhere around 2020 after a 25 years of construction, Docklands is forecast to become home to 20,000 residents and 60,000 workers.
Not unexpectedly Fishermans Bend immediately drew comparisons with the much-maligned Docklands project (an article for another day) and was derided as another Docklands waiting to happen - doomed to fail before it had even begun. Perhaps on the surface such a comparison would seem logical and warranted however closer analysis suggests that isn't exactly the case. For starters Docklands was a blank canvas of Government owned land immediately adjacent to the CBD that lay dormant for decades, boasting little to no critical infrastructure with only the benefit of Spencer Street Station on its door step.
Fisherman's Bend on the other hand comprises 1000 plots of land owned by various developers and industries serviced by roads, buses and the 109 tram. The best comparison I can think of for Fishermans Bend is Southbank. It too started life as a former industrial area and in the space of 25 years has become a high-rise suburb that has activated the banks of the Yarra, but unfortunately whose back streets are very much traffic sewers and not pedestrian friendly.
With Docklands the State Government and it's development arm, Docklands Authority, had ultimate control over how the area developed as it owned the land and could subdivide plots of various sizes and sell them off to whom they saw fit. Yet the precinct forged ahead in an uncontrolled, ad-hoc manner, rather than beginning with Docklands Stadium and expanding organically from there. The Southbank scenario isn't ideal either, with a Structure Plan only being drafted up some 20 years after the fact and long needed community infrastructure only now infiltrating its way into the area. Development at Southbank has largely been informed by the various zonings and overlays which make up the Melbourne Planning Scheme and have resulted in cookie cutter towers upon podiums of parking with no life at street level and quality urban design severely lacking.
With Fishermans Bend in its entirety being rezoned Capital City Zone, the challenge of controlling which areas are developed and when beyond simply being able to acquire the land necessary to provide community facilities, open space and the infrastructure required to service the area becomes excessively difficult. As does providing the right mix of residential typologies that are not only affordable but also result in a quality built environment which promotes and fosters high level urban design and architecture, particularly when the development will be largely developer driven. I suppose in an ideal scenario Lorimer and Montague, boasting the best proximity to Docklands and Southbank would be first cabs off the rank followed by Sandridge and Wirraway.
So let's take a look at the plan...
The Draft Vision for Fishermans Bend is informed by the following 10 key moves:
This poses questions such as will the Southbank depot need to be expanded ? Is duplication of the 109 tram route worth investigating? I catch the 109 to work every morning and during peak times we're akin to sardines particularly if there's a delay - how will it cope with 80,000 extra people? Will a levy be introduced where by developers contribute an amount (say 5-8%) towards investment in infrastructure? Will the Collins Street team bridge incorporate a shared path for pedestrians? The bridge will have to be operable and/or of a gradient to allow for watercraft to pass below.
If ferries are introduced will trams get priority in terms of right of way? Should the sites destined for metro stations be acquired by the state government now and then sold back to developers with their own zoning perhaps with no height limits in place, allowing for an integrated Transit Oriented Development with a commercial component to help offset the cost of the stations and tunneling. What model will the schools adopt? Vertical or a more traditional stand alone model?
Summary of the Design Guidelines (note these are discretionary)
These are all to be expected and seem fairly obvious strategies to employ, with most already existing in some form or another within the Melbourne Planning Scheme. Yet the evidence of these controls being implemented successfully on a large scale is generally lacking. The key to achieving the right outcomes I believe comes down to how vigilant CoM, CoPP and DPCD are in enforcing Floor Space Ratios. Yes developments should be judged on their individual merits but if the basic principles are applied equally we won't end up with 30-storey towers built on 300sqm sites to all boundaries resulting in blank facades and a poor pedestrian environment.
A question that will no doubt be raised soon enough is what effect will these guidelines have on existing planning applications? Urban Melbourne will investigate the impacts at a later date so stay tuned.
With all the above in mind, I believe the most crucial aspect to ensuring Fishermans Bend's success will be how it develops and achieves the critical mass required to make it a desirable place to visit, live and work, and whether it can realistically offer the right mix of different residential typologies to appeal to Melburnians from all walks of life. The responsible authorities have to stay the course and stick to the plan once it's finalised while being careful to avoid the danger of introducing so many controls that the area seems manufactured and monotonous rather than something which has developed organically and evolved over time.
The Project Control Group consisting of Places Victoria, the Department of Transport Planning and Local Infrastructure, the Office of the Victorian Government Architect, Port of Melbourne Corporation, the City of Melbourne and the City of Port Phillip should be commended for developing a long-term vision for what is an ambitious project, however the hard work essentially starts now. It's one thing to develop a plan that ticks the right boxes, but much harder to implement particularly when so much of the plan relies on private investment. Hopefully lessons have been learnt (both good and bad) from projects such as Southbank, Docklands, Dandenong and of course the Melbourne CBD, none of which were built in a day but if Fishermans Bend is to meet the expectations of the Government's vision, then it cannot be rushed.
So come on the risin' wind, we're goin' up around the bend.
Further information on Fishermans Bend can be found here: