Will redevelopment of Fishermans Bend really be ‘revolutionary’?

The Age breathlessly headlines the Government’s proposals for the redevelopment of Fishermans Bend as Premier Ted Baillieu’s “inner city housing revolution”. Planning Minister Matthew Guy says the area will evolve as ”Australia’s first inner-city growth corridor”.

Whoa there! I think it might be time for a relaxing cup of tea and a lie down. Let’s put these claims in perspective.

According to Mr Guy, the area under consideration is 200 Ha. That’s quite a bit smaller than the 41,000 Ha expansion of the Urban Growth Boundary approved last year.

Mr Guy also says the area is going to be developed over a 20-30 year time frame. If its total capacity is the 10,000 to 15,000 dwellings estimated by the Chief Executive of the Property Council, Jennifer Cunich, that’s at most 750 additional dwellings per year on average, and as few as 333 per year.

Just to put that in context, 42,509 dwellings were approved in the metropolitan area in the 12 months ending on 30 September 2010. Ms Cunich is quoted as saying even that’s less than we need – she says there’s a shortfall of 6,000 homes per year across the State.

While the redevelopment of Fishermans Bend is important, the claim that it’s a ‘revolution’ is hyperbole.

Likewise, the Minister’s claim that Fishermans Bend will be a ‘growth area’ – a term usually used to refer to massive outer suburban release areas – is more than a trifle exaggerated. Consider that 17,000 new dwellings were approved in Melbourne’s (outer) Growth Area municipalities in the year ending September Qtr 2010.

The Minister’s claim that the project will focus on “more affordable” housing also seems ambitious.

This is a premium location close to the CBD and the beach. Retrofitting infrastructure will be expensive. It’s inevitable the housing will be priced well out of the range of average income earners and the great bulk of first home buyers.

There’s scope for some subsidised housing but there are limits to how much concentration is appropriate for the tenants, how much their owner-occupier neighbours will accept, and how much governments and developers are willing to pay.

However if by ‘affordable’ the Minister means housing that is within the reach of middle class buyers and not solely the preserve of the very rich, then the frequent calls for a low rise development need to be resisted.

Fishermans Bend is a rare opportunity.  Apart from its locational advantages, the large lots mean land assembly will be easier than elsewhere in the inner city and the relatively small numbers of existing residents mean less potential for conflict. This is an argument for more density, not less. It’s an opportunity to make up for the many restrictions on density elsewhere in Melbourne and go for significantly more dwellings that Ms Cunich envisages.

Manhattan streetscape (Chelsea)

Population density should accordingly be maximised – consistent with market conditions and good design practice – so that the best use is made of this precious asset. That might involve a mix of developments at different densities with a range of building heights. It should look more like Manhattan (but without the car vs pedestrian conflict) than Carlton.

The fear that anything other than low-rise will unavoidably end up like Docklands is misplaced. Sure, Docklands provides important lessons, but there is no logical and necessary connection – much less inevitability – between what happens in Fishermans Bend and how Docklands was handled. There are other, more successful higher density projects which are just as relevant. In any event Dockland’s failings aren’t due to excessive density.

There are also a number of issues with Fishermans Bend that will need to be considered carefully, as I pointed out here. They include the value of the area for industry and possible contamination of the land. Obviously there will need to be good infrastructure, services and urban design.

But a key element that so far is missing is the strategic vision for Fishermans Bend. I don’t so much mean what it looks like, I mean how it will fit in with whatever the new Government’s vision is for the entire metropolitan area. What will its role within the entire urban system – the metropolitan economy – be?

Is it, for example, to be predominantly residential (as the term ‘growth area’ might be taken to imply), or is it also to be a major employment centre? If it were, for example, the latter, this could have significant implications for the functioning of activity centres in the suburbs.

It is vital that the Government comes to terms with the ‘bigger picture’ for all of Melbourne before it goes too far down the road with Fishermans Bend.

Update: Here’s a video report by Channel TEN. It indicates the area under consideration is the western end, south of the freeway and north of Williamstown Rd (shown as Port Melbourne on the Melway – see map).

I think this is Port-owned land but I measure it as only around 70 Ha (using GIS software). The video has an animation (presumably prepared by the Government?) of what the development might look like – not really the five or six storey buildings mentioned by the Premier in the report. Lots of emphasis on noise.

Then again, this video by The Age suggests the area under consideration is further to the east, although still south of the freeway (the Minister makes it clear the area north of the freeway is not part of the current proposal).

Some clarification of the general area under consideration would be helpful.

13 Comments on “Will redevelopment of Fishermans Bend really be ‘revolutionary’?”

  1. rohan says:

    Yes well the Minister has been reported as if the Bend is the solution to everything, which as you clearly show, it isnt. I too am concerned that this might mean the displacement of blue-collar jobs, turning the area into a purely residential precinct. and yes high density fine, but as you say needs good infrastructure, services and urban design – for instance a tram line mapped out in advance.

  2. Matthew says:

    So I take it Alan you are suggesting higher density but not Corbusien towers? So something like the best of European style like Copenhagen or Paris 5 storey apartment buildings? And not every place needs a garage. Then off road cycle paths and an extension of the bike share scheme. I’d go for Citycat style ferries as well, from Footscray in the West and to Chapel Street in the East. Well done. Bravo. Sounds great, but are Victorians too bogan to do Fisherman’s Bend well?

    • Alan Davies says:

      Probably more like 8 stories rather than 5 because anything less is likely to be uneconomic due to inefficiencies in our building industry. I’d be looking for the odd high-rise tower too if there’re appropriate locations. No minimum car requirement either. Fast ferries to link to the CBD is an excellent idea.

  3. Bruce Dickson says:

    In the context of urban redevelopment, larger apartment blocks are fine and should always be seen as legitimate, but only if they start to get really serious about some basic design principles for better living … and yes some of the best (and often very cleverly integrated) concepts here come from the traditions of Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and Central and Latin America.

    Green internal courtyards and genuinely generous roof living areas, apartment decks, adjoining patios, indoor/outdoor verandahs, linked internal/external walkways, noise dampening/meditation inducing, accessible water features (both discrete and prominent), etc, are a great start.

    Plus the basic principle of having the street level of each given over to interestingly design retail and service outlets with street life features (even beyond sidewalk chairs and tables and edible gardens and landscaping) incorporated as well.

    This is not radical stuff, but do you see it widely applied to ‘affordable’ apartment developments? Not too often, with the excuse of expensive and added cost always allowed to get in the way.

    If done systematically to sets of great advance optional designs and cleverly integrated in a cost effective fashion into the overall development sites, it is not the impossible dream it is often depicted as. (Often by overly greedy developers who only think in such design approach terms, if at all, in the context of higher priced, new housing for the wealthy. Even then, they often sell these people short with a lack of such design features as well. An example being the deliberately low ceilings used in Sydney’s infamous ‘toaster’ blocks, found adjacent to the Opera House. Greed personified.)

    A total rethink of what good design in such contexts can and should be, is way overdue in the mainstream of Australian urban development and planning (even beyond what progress has already been made).

    Media reports are more common now of other countries have assertively taken the initiative in this regard … with such things as specific, project based programs commissioning excellent architects to design and cost out, energy efficient and good living/good design homes that are able to be constructed and supplied at non luxury end (only) prices … even though the end results totally look and feel pretty luxurious in themselves!

    Their design options and consequent low cost templates to choose from, also add to the urban interest and attractiveness, not subtract. Is there all that much more we could we be asking for?

    It’s ultimately all about being genuinely serious about achieving desired outcomes (such as BOTH affordability AND quality) and not just mouthing on about results that actually are achievable, with the right will and vision.

    A result never possible when the seriousness of intention to follow through and deliver, no matter what the development methodology or business partnering means used, is missing or totally compromised along the way.

  4. Cheis says:

    Too close to sea level for my liking. We have learned nothing from the Brisbane floods. Let’s not repeat the disaster that is docklands.

  5. Considering it seems to only be the southern section of the area being developed I’d say the best solution for PT in the area would be a tram line coming off Spencer Street (god, I nearly wrote Southern Cross Street there…) running approximately through the middle of the development area (should put the tram line within walking distance of the whole area) until it hits the river where it should cross a bridge then travel south along or parallel to Douglas Parade then west along North Road turning up Hall Street where it should terminate at Newport Station.

    This would link the areas along the lines that travel through Newport directly to the precinct, as well as providing an alternative (possibly faster) route to the city.

    There would also provide a link between south eastern and south western suburbs that does not need to go via North Melbourne and the CBD.

    I agree about the mixed heights and densities, but mixed development is also a must. Doctors, groceries, etc, not all located in a single shopping mall need to be provided, and provided within walking distance of most dwellings.

    • Russ says:

      Unless there is a plan to close the dock facilities north of the West Gate, any bridge in that area needs to be as high as the West Gate, and therefore broadly as long (and expensive). You’d probably be better off with a tunnel, depending on what you are digging in (river muck isn’t much good for either foundations or tunneling).

  6. […] being redeveloped but, as I said on February 19 in the context of a similar report on proposals for Fishermans Bend, the significance or otherwise of the project for fringe growth has to be assessed in the context […]

  7. Cameron says:

    Hi, great article, but please anything but trams. Slow, power hungry and inflexible. There is a reason the rest of the world does not have them. Double decker buses all the way. Ferry would be great, how about a canal system !

    Also remember that area is a reclaimed swamp, high rise buildings may be impossible, and we should start with prefabricated high rise as well.

  8. […] disused industrial areas. Even so, “brownfield” sites come with their own set of issues, like contamination and possible alternative […]

  9. […] Governments like to point to disused industrial sites as a significant source of land for expanding housing supply within the established suburbs. Only recently, for example, the State Government talked up the potential of Fishermans Bend as a new “Growth Corridor”. […]

  10. […] Will redevelopment of Fishermans Bend really be revolutionary? […]

  11. Assistant says:

    Maybe we could have the first recession proof suburb?

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