Back in harness: John Tabart. Photo: Louie Douvis
The Napthine government has turned to the man who oversaw the much-criticised Docklands development for ''urgent'' help on new projects before the November state poll.
In what the opposition has described as a ''panicked'' election-year move, the government is paying former Docklands Authority chief John Tabart $5000 a day to review two faltering projects: E-Gate, the former railway site in West Melbourne, and the much-hyped eastward extension of Federation Square.
Mr Tabart was the controversial head of the Victorian Docklands Authority and its successors between 1993 and 2006.
He left as Docklands was taking shape amid scathing critiques by architects, planners and even former Kennett-era planning minister Rob Maclellan about the laissez-faire process used to develop the waterfront site.
One of Melbourne's high priests of design, RMIT University professor Leon van Schaik, has described Docklands as ''run-of-the-mill, second-rate modernism''. Swinburne University housing specialist Terry Burke has called for it to be blown up.
Mr Tabart is head of the authority developing waterfront Barangaroo in Sydney. But Fairfax Media has established that he is also working for the Napthine government on a contract valued at more than $100,000. The threshold for competitive tenders is $100,000.
A government spokesman confirmed standard procedures were bypassed - as allowed under procurement rules - because the government needed ''urgent'' specialist advice before the budget.
Asked if Docklands was to be a model for E-Gate and Federation Square East, the spokesman said the government was drawing on a range of example projects, including Docklands. Like its Labor predecessors the Baillieu/Napthine government has earmarked the 20-hectare E-Gate, a former railway property in West Melbourne, as a key inner-city housing site for 10,000 residents and commercial space. Last year it promised to complete a full business case by the end of 2013. But no further announcement has been made.
One well-placed source said simply selling off the prime E-Gate site was now an option as the government sought hard to come by cash for infrastructure projects.
The government is also conscious that it faces a hammering from Labor over the lack of progress on major renewal projects.
The Federation Square extension has been on the drawing board for years but the Coalition has struggled to make it viable without major government investment.
Last April it called for expressions of interest. Among those seeking a role in the project are developer Ron Walker, a former Liberal Party treasurer, and architects Denton Corker Marshall.
Opposition major projects spokesman Brian Tee said the employment of Mr Tabart was no surprise. ''It smacks of a panic-stricken government in crisis, desperately looking for ways to con Victorians into thinking they have a major-projects agenda.''
Mr Tabart would not comment.