Fishermans Bend: Australia’s largest urban renewal project

As Australia’s largest urban renewal project, Fishermans Bend is earmarked to play a key role in supporting Melbourne’s growth. In a 30-year transformation, a range of complex changes will need to be made to the urban form.

In the 18th century, the Yarra River, otherwise known as Birrarung, was a major meeting place for the First Australians.

Australia’s first vertical government school.

The traditional owners of the land shared territory between the Bunwurrung and Woiwurrung language groups at the head of Port Phillip Bay. They shaped the land and as communities around the area evolved and grew, so did a range of key industries.

Today, the gentle curve of the river and its arrow-straight Williamstown Road remain the boundaries of Fishermans Bend.

The area has been subject to continuous change, with decades of new Australian migrants shaping a range of influential industries, from Vegemite’s headquarters to the Herald Sun printing press. Preservation of the existing rich history has also remained part of the precinct’s evolution.

But as the city continues its exponential growth, urban renewal becomes a necessity. Plan Melbourne predicts that 1.6 million new homes will need to be built in Melbourne between now and 2050 to support the growing population. With infill development forecast to become the largest contributor, strategic urban renewal projects like Fishermans Bend will need to play their part.

By 2050, Fishermans Bend will support around 80,000 residents and provide employment for the same amount of people. The vision for the centre is to create a thriving place that is a leading example of environmental sustainability, liveability, connectivity, diversity and innovation.

With 480 hectares of land, the precinct is more than double that of the Melbourne CBD.

As such, Fishermans Bend is earmarked to play a key role in Melbourne’s growth. In improving the city’s liveability, urban planners will enhance the landscape with open and green spaces, schools, kindergartens, bike path and walking trails.

The precinct is now in the midst of developing its existing employment zone to unlock a new wave of innovation in design and manufacturing. Education will be central to the precinct, as Melbourne University plans to relocate its design and engineering campus from Parkville to Fishermans Bend.

But it’s no easy task. Tania Quick, Director of the Fisherman’s Bend Taskforce, declares she has one of the greatest, but most challenging, planning jobs in the world. Every day, she looks at the complexities and difficulties that lie ahead, but is also incredibly excited about the enormous city shaping opportunities presented.

While Ms. Quick has a long history of involvement in Fisherman’s Bend, dating back to her appointment to its Ministerial Advisory Committee in 2015, leading the project is exciting.

“There will be $30 billion of construction activity occurring in the precinct, and that’s just over the rezoned areas over the course of the next 30-odd years,” Ms. Quick says.

Fishermans Bend is Australia’s largest urban renewal project and spans five major precincts across two municipalities – the City of Melbourne and City of Port Phillip. The area is set to play a key role in the evolution of central Melbourne as a leading place to live, work, visit and invest.

Traditionally an area for low-scale industrial and warehousing, Fishermans Bend will become a series of vibrant, mixed-use, medium and high-density neighbourhoods in a transformation spanning several decades. As most of the land is privately owned, the change will be reliant on successful partnerships between all levels of government, the private sector and the community.

Four capital city zoned precincts – Montague, Lorimer, Sandridge and Wirraway – were rezoned to capital cities in 2012.

Described at the time as Melbourne’s first inner city growth area, the rezoning is to strengthen central Melbourne’s capital city function. However the rezoning of 285 hectares was followed by a period of planning uncertainty.

“At that time, we didn’t have [any] planning in place. There wasn’t a planning framework or infrastructure plan in place  and that led to some challenges around how developments responded in the immediate term,” Ms. Quick says.

This created a need for a measured response.

“We needed to ensure we could get the right infrastructure planning in place to support the expectations of large-scale urban renewal.”

In 2015, the Victorian Government launched the recast of Fishermans Bend planning in partnership with the relevant local councils. A 200-hectare ’Employment Precinct’ was included in the planning work.

This was followed by extensive public consultation with the community, industry, and stakeholders over the course of 2016 and 2017. An updated vision was subsequently launched in September 2016, and an updated Draft Fishermans Bend Framework released in October 2017.

Getting the project off the ground then required the introduction of a complex set of planning controls. A public Planning Review Panel process culminated in the Fishermans Bend Framework – a long-term strategic plan and planning controls released in late 2018.

The amendments called for an evaluation of preferred land uses, identifying potential key transport alignments, facilitating affordable housing, promoting sustainable transport patterns and a range of other considerations.

The Fishermans Bend Development Board was created to guide planning and development, supported by a taskforce sitting within the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions.

The Framework and planning controls provide direction on how to manage the complex transition and create certainty for the community, landowners, developers, businesses and investors. Some of the issues include considering and preparing planning permit applications and clear strategic planning to inform public and private investment.

Additionally, the plan aims to enable the community, businesses and investors to make informed decisions assisting in the realisation of the vision.

Ms. Quick says that at its highest level, Fishermans Bend is providing a leading example of environmental sustainability, liveability, connectivity, diversity and innovation.

The burgeoning development project unfolds with each passing day, with Australia’s first vertical government school in Ferrars Street and an adjacent parkland unveiled in 2018 unveiled in 2018.

Pete Glenane/HiVis Pictures. Ingles St.

A secondary school has also commenced construction in Graham Street, next to existing parkland, due to open for the 2022 school year. These kinds of catalytic projects are important to shaping a complete community and influencing development outcomes.

A key challenge for the precinct is that unlike many other urban renewal projects, the project has limited land ownership in the precinct, with about 90 per cent in private ownership.

Working with the private sector is therefore essential to ensuring the existing environment is retrofitted to suit the urban fabric.

For example, Ms. Quick says that the area contains buses but they are at capacity and, while planned, there are limited public transport rail connections in the area, so transport planning is a significant issue for the taskforce to resolve.

Additionally, there a range of environmental challenges being worked through, including flooding, land and groundwater contamination and geotechnical conditions.

As Fishermans Bend is located where the Yarra discharges into Port Phillip Bay, the area is vulnerable to inundation in tidal events.

“A large part of Fishermans Bend is around 0.4 AHD so we are basically at sea level. When we start factoring in the provision for potential sea level rise and thinking about stormwater and flooding issues that presents a whole series of challenges.

“We have been working closely with Melbourne Water. Infrastructure planning underway includes extensive provisions around expanding pipes systems, replacing them and upgrading them, putting in pumping stations and a levy bank as well.”

Ms. Quick says that the planning approach being taken by stakeholders embeds sustainability principles, including building a climate-resilient and water-sensitive community.

The framework is guided by eight sustainability goals and commits to Fishermans Bend being a Green Star Community. A sustainable approach is therefore being taken across social, economic and environmental outcomes.

For example, each development will be connected to a water recycling and sewer harvesting system. Work is also underway in relation to urban ecology and water sensitive urban design which will be released in coming months.

An extensive network of public open space is also planned, aiming to ensure all residents and workers are within 200 metres of places to recreate and relax.

Integrated transport planning is one of the many measures required with a planned mix of residential, commercial, retail, community, leisure and entertainment.

An integrated transport strategy will accompany a target of 80 per cent for transport movements to be via sustainable means, including walking and cycling. Fishermans Bend is currently a peninsula with limited transport connectivity so enhanced connections will be required.

Work is underway on preparation of business case supporting the delivery of two new tram routes connecting Fishermans Bend to the CBD. Two new metro stations are also planned.

While there will be some hurdles along the way, ultimately, Fishermans Bend offers an unparalleled opportunity for urban renewal.

“We have a phenomenal opportunity right on the doorstep of our CBD and in between the CBD and the bay.

“We’ve got the opportunity here to use this area to help maintain Melbourne’s competitive strengths and remain as a truly global and liveable city,” Ms. Quick says.

This article was published in the March edition of Roads & Infrastructure Magazine. 

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