Fear of a second Docklands
AUSTRALIA’S largest-ever urban renewal project at Fishermans Bend risks becoming ‘‘worse than Docklands’’ as the Baillieu government makes compromises in the chase for foreign investors, experts warn.
State government developer Places Victoria met with Asia’s wealthiest property investors in Hong Kong this month to shop the $30 billion project near Port Melbourne that will be larger than Docklands in area.
Planning for the proposed 90,000-resident suburb is in its infancy, with the first public consultations due to start next year.
However, Places Victoria chief executive officer Sam Sangster said six big property developers and financial backers from Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and Bahrain were already ‘‘seriously interested’’ in investing in Melbourne following his presentation at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre a fortnight ago.
RMIT University planning Professor Michael Buxton said Asian developers sell largely to Asian investors, which would not make housing more affordable for locals.
He said it could lead to expensive properties at Fishermans Bend, and ultimately, a bigger price crash if demand failed to keep up with supply.
Dr Buxton said international companies would only be interested in the developments they were used to building.
‘‘The type of Malaysian investor you’ll get will want high rise and the bigger the better,’’ he said.
‘‘We don’t want massed glass and concrete towers like Pudong in Shanghai at Fishermans Bend, we want what Docklands should have been.’’
‘‘It’s a particular worry when the head of a public planning agency is flogging major development sites overseas when there is no masterplan. We are going to end up with something even worse than Docklands.’’
In July, more than 15 years into the Docklands project, Planning Minster Matthew Guy pledged $300 million worth of community projects to transform it from ‘‘a development site to a liveable suburb’’, with Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle and industry groups agreeing it lacked ‘‘heart and soul’’.
University of Melbourne fellow in urban geography Kate Shaw said Places Victoria’s focus on money at Fishermans Bend will lead to developer-driven planning, with affordable housing, low-cost business and art spaces, and community centres neglected.
‘‘Fishermans Bend is at risk of becoming the Docklands of the 21st century, or an even poorer version, which will be a sad outcome for Melbourne,’’ Dr Shaw said.
‘‘Part of the problem is that Places Victoria is a profit-driven development corporation that is about jobs and cranes on the skyline, but by giving the market free rein, the diverse elements that make up a real city are sidelined.’’
She said unlike Docklands, most of the land at Fishermans Bend is privately owned, making it even less likely community spaces would be provided without state government direction.
However, Mr Sangster defended his $32,000 trip to the Asia Pacific’s leading property conference a fortnight ago, saying local developers were struggling to get finance through the Australian debt markets. ‘‘Banking and finance conditions in Australia do make it tough to secure credit these days, so we need to have the broadest range of investment partners available,’’ he said.
Mr Sangster was also searching for Asian funding partners to help complete Docklands, which is half finished, but stalled in the credit crunch.
The trip was in line with a new approach outlined by Minister Guy in September, who described his portfolio as ‘‘becoming an economic one rather than an academic one’’.
Mr Sangster said Places Victoria was ‘‘learning its lesson’’ on Docklands by planning for community facilities, services and spaces at Fisherman’s Bend earlier. He did not rule out compulsory acquisition of land.
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